Focus |

Snow in the climate system

With anthropogenic warming, the spatial coverage and thickness of Earth’s snow cover is decreasing dramatically, impacting, for example, water resources, atmospheric teleconnections, and planetary albedo. In this Focus, Nature Climate Change presents a range of Comment/Review pieces and primary research documenting the key role snow plays in the climate system, and how this may be modified with climate change.

Comment & Review

  • Nature Climate Change | Review Article

    Using the ‘Can it? Has it? Will it?’ framework, this Review synthesizes current understanding on Eurasian snow–atmosphere coupling, outlining observational and modelling evidence for their dynamical connection and discussing possible changes in the future.

    • Gina R. Henderson
    • , Yannick Peings
    • , Jason C. Furtado
    •  &  Paul J. Kushner
  • Nature Climate Change | Review Article

    Snow albedo is impacted by the presence of light-absorbing particles, including black carbon and dust. This Review collates knowledge on the associated radiative forcing, discussing geographic variability, future impacts and challenges for reducing uncertainty.

    • S. McKenzie Skiles
    • , Mark Flanner
    • , Joseph M. Cook
    • , Marie Dumont
    •  &  Thomas H. Painter
  • Nature Climate Change | Perspective

    This Perspective provides an overview of the snow–sea ice systems in the Arctic and Antarctic, offering insight on how current uncertainties can be reduced, and future challenges met, to improve understanding of polar climate change.

    • Melinda Webster
    • , Sebastian Gerland
    • , Marika Holland
    • , Elizabeth Hunke
    • , Ron Kwok
    • , Olivier Lecomte
    • , Robert Massom
    • , Don Perovich
    •  &  Matthew Sturm
  • Nature Climate Change | Comment

    Extensive evidence reveals that Earth’s snow cover is declining, but our ability to monitor trends in mountain regions is limited. New satellite missions with robust snow water equivalent retrievals are needed to fill this gap.

    • Kat J. Bormann
    • , Ross D. Brown
    • , Chris Derksen
    •  &  Thomas H. Painter
  • Nature Climate Change | Comment

    Indigenous reindeer herding in the circumpolar North is threatened by multiple drivers of environmental and social changes that affect the sustainability of traditional family-based nomadic use of pastures. These impacts are exacerbated by indigenous peoples’ lack of voice in governance strategies, management and adaptation responses.

    • Inger Marie Gaup Eira
    • , Anders Oskal
    • , Inger Hanssen-Bauer
    •  &  Svein Disch Mathiesen
  • Nature Climate Change | Feature

    Piece by piece, scientists are gathering evidence of the growing threat of wet snow avalanches in a warmer world.

    • Olive Heffernan

Research

  • Nature Climate Change | Letter

    Arctic biodiversity patterns will be highly dependent on the evolution of snow conditions, according to simulation results that integrate observations of vascular plants, mosses and lichens over a range of Arctic landscapes.

    • Pekka Niittynen
    • , Risto K. Heikkinen
    •  &  Miska Luoto
  • Nature Climate Change | Article

    Observations from western North America and model simulations are used to understand how climate change will affect snowmelt. Snowmelt is found to be slower under climate change as earlier melt means there is less energy for high melt rates.

    • Keith N. Musselman
    • , Martyn P. Clark
    • , Changhai Liu
    • , Kyoko Ikeda
    •  &  Roy Rasmussen
  • Nature Climate Change | Letter

    Increased surface temperatures are expected to cause less precipitation in the form of snow. The impact of decreased snowfall has previously been assumed to not influence streamflow significantly. This work applies a water-balance framework to catchments in the United States and finds a greater percentage of precipitation as snowfall is associated with greater mean streamflow.

    • W. R. Berghuijs
    • , R. A. Woods
    •  &  M. Hrachowitz
  • Nature Climate Change | Letter

    Arctic precipitation is projected to increase and this study shows that rainfall will become the dominant phase of precipitation, with a decrease in snowfall across all seasons.

    • R. Bintanja
    •  &  O. Andry
  • Nature Climate Change | Letter

    The impact of climate change on the water resources and hydrology of High Asia is uncertain. This work uses a cryospheric hydrological model to quantify the hydrology of five major rivers in the region and project future water availability. Runoff is expected to increase until at least 2050 due to an increase in precipitation in the upper catchment of four rivers and increased melt entering the fifth river.

    • A. F. Lutz
    • , W. W. Immerzeel
    • , A. B. Shrestha
    •  &  M. F. P. Bierkens