IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis Changes in Snow Cover and Frozen Ground

Snow cover is an integrated response to both temperature and precipitation and exhibits strong negative correlation with air temperature in most areas with a seasonal snow cover (see Section for an evaluation of model-simulated present-day snow cover). Because of this temperature association, the simulations project widespread reductions in snow cover over the 21st century (Supplementary Material, Figure S10.1). For the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) model mean, at the end of the 21st century the projected reduction in the annual mean NH snow cover is 13% under the B2 scenario (ACIA, 2004). The individual model projections range from reductions of 9 to 17%. The actual reductions are greatest in spring and late autumn/early winter, indicating a shortened snow cover season (ACIA, 2004). The beginning of the snow accumulation season (the end of the snowmelt season) is projected to be later (earlier), and the fractional snow coverage is projected to decrease during the snow season (Hosaka et al., 2005).

Warming at high northern latitudes in climate model simulations is also associated with large increases in simulated thaw depth over much of the permafrost regions (Lawrence and Slater, 2005; Yamaguchi et al., 2005; Kitabata et al., 2006). Yamaguchi et al. (2005) show that initially soil moisture increases during the summer. In the late 21st century when the thaw depth has increased substantially, a reduction in summer soil moisture eventually occurs (Kitabata et al., 2006). Stendel and Christensen (2002) show poleward movement of permafrost extent, and a 30 to 40% increase in active layer thickness for most of the permafrost area in the NH, with the largest relative increases concentrated in the northernmost locations.

Regionally, the changes are a response to both increased temperature and increased precipitation (changes in circulation patterns) and are complicated by the competing effects of warming and increased snowfall in those regions that remain below freezing (see Section 4.2 for a further discussion of processes that affect snow cover). In general, snow amount and snow coverage decreases in the NH (Supplementary Material, Figure S10.1). However, in a few regions (e.g., Siberia), snow amount is projected to increase. This is attributed to the increase in precipitation (snowfall) from autumn to winter (Meleshko et al., 2004; Hosaka et al., 2005).