Changes of Snow Cover, Temperature, and Radiative Heat Balance over the Northern Hemisphere

Pavel Ya Groisman National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, North Carolina

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Thomas R. Karl National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, North Carolina

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Richard W. Knight National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, North Carolina

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Georgiy L. Stenchikov Department of Meteorology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland

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Abstract

Contemporary large-scale changes in satellite-derived snow cover were examined over the Northern Hemisphere extratropical land (NEL) areas. These areas encompass 55% of the land in the Northern Hemisphere. Snow cover (S) transient regions, the “centers of action” relative to interannual variations of snow cover, were identified for the years 1972–1992. During these years a global retreat in snow cover extent (SE) occurred in the second half of the hydrologic year (April–September). Mean annual SE has decreased by 10% (2.3 × 106 km2). Negative trends account for one-third to one-half of the interannual continental variance of SE.

The historical influence of S on the planetary albedo and outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) is investigated. The mean annual response of the S feedback on the radiative balance (RB) is negative and suggests a large-scale heat redistribution. During autumn and early winter (up to January), however, the feedback of S on the planetary RB may he positive. Only by February does the cooling effect of S (due to albedo increase) dominate the planetary warming due to reduced OLR over the S. Despite a wintertime maximum in SF, the feedback in spring has the greatest magnitude.

The global retreat of spring SE should lead to a positive feedback on temperature. Based on observed records of S, changes in RB are calculated that parallel an observed increase of spring temperature during the past 20 years. The results provide a partial explanation of the significant increase in spring surface air temperature observed over the land areas of the Northern Hemisphere during the past century.

The mean SE in years with an El Niño and La Niña were also evaluated. El Niño events are generally accompanied by increased SE over the NEL during the first half of the hydrological year. In the second half of the hydrologic year (spring and summer), the El Niño events are accompanied by a global retreat of SE.

Abstract

Contemporary large-scale changes in satellite-derived snow cover were examined over the Northern Hemisphere extratropical land (NEL) areas. These areas encompass 55% of the land in the Northern Hemisphere. Snow cover (S) transient regions, the “centers of action” relative to interannual variations of snow cover, were identified for the years 1972–1992. During these years a global retreat in snow cover extent (SE) occurred in the second half of the hydrologic year (April–September). Mean annual SE has decreased by 10% (2.3 × 106 km2). Negative trends account for one-third to one-half of the interannual continental variance of SE.

The historical influence of S on the planetary albedo and outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) is investigated. The mean annual response of the S feedback on the radiative balance (RB) is negative and suggests a large-scale heat redistribution. During autumn and early winter (up to January), however, the feedback of S on the planetary RB may he positive. Only by February does the cooling effect of S (due to albedo increase) dominate the planetary warming due to reduced OLR over the S. Despite a wintertime maximum in SF, the feedback in spring has the greatest magnitude.

The global retreat of spring SE should lead to a positive feedback on temperature. Based on observed records of S, changes in RB are calculated that parallel an observed increase of spring temperature during the past 20 years. The results provide a partial explanation of the significant increase in spring surface air temperature observed over the land areas of the Northern Hemisphere during the past century.

The mean SE in years with an El Niño and La Niña were also evaluated. El Niño events are generally accompanied by increased SE over the NEL during the first half of the hydrological year. In the second half of the hydrologic year (spring and summer), the El Niño events are accompanied by a global retreat of SE.

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