Articles | Volume 5, issue 1
The Cryosphere, 5, 219–229, 2011
The Cryosphere, 5, 219–229, 2011

Research article 16 Mar 2011

Research article | 16 Mar 2011

Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover variability and change over 1922–2010 including an assessment of uncertainty

R. D. Brown1 and D. A. Robinson2 R. D. Brown and D. A. Robinson
  • 1Climate Processes Section, Climate Research Division, Environment Canada @ Ouranos, 550 Sherbrooke St. West, 19th Floor, Montréal, QC, H3A 1B9, Canada
  • 2Department of Geography, Rutgers University, 54 Joyce Kilmer Avenue, Piscataway, NJ 08854-8054, USA

Abstract. An update is provided of Northern Hemisphere (NH) spring (March, April) snow cover extent (SCE) over the 1922–2010 period incorporating the new climate data record (CDR) version of the NOAA weekly SCE dataset, with annual 95% confidence intervals estimated from regression analysis and intercomparison of multiple datasets. The uncertainty analysis indicates a 95% confidence interval in NH spring SCE of ±5–10% over the pre-satellite period and ±3–5% over the satellite era. The multi-dataset analysis shows larger uncertainties monitoring spring SCE over Eurasia (EUR) than North America (NA) due to the more complex regional character of the snow cover variability and larger between-dataset variability over northern Europe and north-central Russia.

Trend analysis of the updated SCE series provides evidence that NH spring snow cover extent has undergone significant reductions over the past ~90 yr and that the rate of decrease has accelerated over the past 40 yr. The rate of decrease in March and April NH SCE over the 1970–2010 period is ~0.8 million km2 per decade corresponding to a 7% and 11% decrease in NH March and April SCE respectively from pre-1970 values. In March, most of the change is being driven by Eurasia (NA trends are not significant) but both continents exhibit significant SCE reductions in April.

The observed trends in SCE are being mainly driven by warmer air temperatures, with NH mid-latitude air temperatures explaining ~50% of the variance in NH spring snow cover over the 89-yr period analyzed. However, there is also evidence that changes in atmospheric circulation around 1980 involving the North Atlantic Oscillation and Scandinavian pattern have contributed to reductions in March SCE over Eurasia.