Effects of pan-Arctic snow cover and air temperature changes on soil heat content

Shi, Xiaogang and Troy, Tara J. and Lettenmaier, Dennis P. (2016) Effects of pan-Arctic snow cover and air temperature changes on soil heat content. The Cryosphere Discussions. pp. 1-54. ISSN 1994-0440

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Soil heat content (SHC) provides an estimate of the integrated effect of changes in the land surface energy balance. It considers the specific heat capacity, soil temperature, and phase changes of soil moisture as a function of depth. In contrast, soil temperature provides a much more limited view of land surface energy flux changes. This is particularly important at high latitudes, which have and are undergoing surface energy flux changes as a result of changes in seasonal variations of snow cover extent (SCE) and hence surface albedo changes, among other factors. Using the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) land surface model forced with gridded climate observations, we simulate spatial and temporal variations of SCE and SHC over the pan-Arctic land region for the last half-century. On the basis of the SCE trends derived from NOAA satellite observations in 5° latitude bands from April through June for the period 1972–2006, we define a snow covered sensitivity zone (SCSZ), a snow covered non-sensitivity zone (SCNZ), and a non-snow covered zone (NSCZ) for North America and Eurasia. We then explore long-term trends in SHC, SCE, and surface air temperature (SAT) and their corresponding correlations in NSCZ, SCSZ and SCNZ for both North America and Eurasia. We find that snow cover downtrends have a significant impact on SHC changes in SCSZ for North America and Eurasia from April through June. SHC changes in the SCSZ over North America are dominated by downtrends in SCE rather than increasing SAT. Over Eurasia, increasing SAT more strongly affects SHC than in North America. Overall, increasing SAT during late spring and early summer is the dominant factor that has resulted in SHC changes over the pan-Arctic domain, whereas reduced SCE plays a secondary role that is only important in the SCSZ.

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Journal Article
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The Cryosphere Discussions
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03 Jan 2018 15:30
Last Modified:
18 Sep 2023 01:18