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Environmental Research Letters

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We examined new satellite climate data records documenting frozen (FR) season and snow cover extent (SCE) changes from 1979 to 2011 over all northern vegetated land areas (≥45 °N). New insight on the spatial and temporal characteristics of seasonal FR ground and snowpack melt changes were revealed by integrating the independent FR and SCE data records. Similar decreasing trends in annual FR and SCE durations coincided with widespread warming (0.4 °C decade−1). Relatively strong declines in FR and SCE durations in spring and summer are partially offset by increasing trends in fall and winter. These contrasting seasonal trends result in relatively weak decreasing trends in annual FR and SCE durations. A dominant SCE retreat response to FR duration decreases was observed, while the sign and strength of this relationship was spatially complex, varying by latitude and regional snow cover, and climate characteristics. The spatial extent of FR conditions exceeds SCE in early spring and is smaller during snowmelt in late spring and early summer, while FR ground in the absence of snow cover is widespread in the fall. The integrated satellite record, for the first time, reveals a general increasing trend in annual snowmelt duration from 1.3 to 3.3 days decade−1 (p < 0.01), occurring largely in the fall. Annual FR ground durations are declining from 0.8 to 1.3 days decade−1. These changes imply extensive biophysical impacts to regional snow cover, soil and permafrost regimes, surface water and energy budgets, and climate feedbacks, while ongoing satellite microwave missions provide an effective means for regional monitoring.


freeze thaw, frozen ground, NASA MEASURES, Remote sensing, snow cover, snowmelt, soil temperature



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