The Changing Face of Arctic Snow Cover: A Synthesis of Observed and Projected Changes

Terry V. Callaghan, Margareta Johansson, Ross D. Brown, Pavel Ya Groisman, Niklas Labba, Vladimir Radionov, Roger G. Barry, Olga N. Bulygina, Richard L. H. Essery, D. M. Frolov, Vladimir N. Golubev, Thomas C. Grenfell, Marina N. Petrushina, Vyacheslav N. Razuvaev, David A. Robinson, Peter Romanov, Drew Shindell, Andrey B. Shmakin, Sergey A. Sokratov, Stephen WarrenDaquing Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Analysis of in situ and satellite data shows evidence of different regional snow cover responses to the widespread warming and increasing winter precipitation that has characterized the Arctic climate for the past 40-50 years. The largest and most rapid decreases in snow water equivalent (SWE) and snow cover duration (SCD) are observed over maritime regions of the Arctic with the highest precipitation amounts. There is also evidence of marked differences in the response of snow cover between the North American and Eurasian sectors of the Arctic, with the North American sector exhibiting decreases in snow cover and snow depth over the entire period of available in situ observations from around 1950, while widespread decreases in snow cover are not apparent over Eurasia until after around 1980. However, snow depths are increasing in many regions of Eurasia. Warming and more frequent winter thaws are contributing to changes in snow pack structure with important implications for land use and provision of ecosystem services. Projected changes in snow cover from Global Climate Models for the 2050 period indicate increases in maximum SWE of up to 15% over much of the Arctic, with the largest increases (15-30%) over the Siberian sector. In contrast, SCD is projected to decrease by about 10-20% over much of the Arctic, with the smallest decreases over Siberia (<10%) and the largest decreases over Alaska and northern Scandinavia (30-40%) by 2050. These projected changes will have far-reaching consequences for the climate system, human activities, hydrology, and ecology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-31
JournalAmbio: a Journal of Human Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Physical Geography

Free keywords

  • extent
  • Snow cover
  • Snow cover duration
  • Snow water equivalent
  • Snow depth


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