Climate Dynamics

, Volume 34, Issue 7, pp 969-981

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The contribution of snow condition trends to future ground climate

  • David M. LawrenceAffiliated withClimate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research Email author 
  • , Andrew G. SlaterAffiliated withCooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado


Global climate models predict that terrestrial northern high-latitude snow conditions will change substantially over the twenty-first century. Results from a Community Climate System Model simulation of twentieth and twenty-first (SRES A1B scenario) century climate show increased winter snowfall (+10–40%), altered maximum snow depth (−5 ± 6 cm), and a shortened snow-season (−14 ± 7 days in spring, +20 ± 9 days in autumn). By conducting a series of prescribed snow experiments with the Community Land Model, we isolate how trends in snowfall, snow depth, and snow-season length affect soil temperature trends. Increasing snowfall, by countering the snowpack-shallowing influence of warmer winters and shorter snow seasons, is effectively a soil warming agent, accounting for 10–30% of total soil warming at 1 m depth and ~16% of the simulated twenty-first century decline in near-surface permafrost extent. A shortening snow season enhances soil warming due to increased solar absorption whereas a shallowing snowpack mitigates soil warming due to weaker winter insulation from cold atmospheric air. Snowpack deepening has comparatively less impact due to saturation of snow insulative capacity at deeper snow depths. Snow depth and snow-season length trends tend to be positively related, but their effects on soil temperature are opposing. Consequently, on the century timescale the net change in snow state can either amplify or mitigate soil warming. Snow state changes explain less than 25% of total soil temperature change by 2100. However, for the latter half of twentieth century, snow state variations account for as much as 50–100% of total soil temperature variations.


Soil temperature Snow Climate modeling Climate change