Justification for indicator selectionSnow covers more than 33 % of the land surface north of the equator from November to April. It reaches a maximum of about 45.2 million km2 in January, and a minimum of about 1.9 million km2 in August (Clark et al., 1999).
Snow cover is an important feedback mechanism of the climate system. The extent of snow cover depends on the climate, for example on temperature and precipitation, and on solar radiation. But it also influences the climate and climate-related systems because of its high reflectivity, insulating properties, effects on water resources and ecosystems, and cooling of the atmosphere. Thus a decrease in snow cover reduces the reflection of solar radiation, contributing to accelerated climate change. Changes in the extent, duration, thickness and properties of snow cover can affect water availability for domestic use, navigation and power generation. Changes in snow cover affect human well-being through influences on agriculture, infrastructure, the livelihoods of indigenous Arctic people, environmental hazards and winter recreation. Snow-cover retreat can reduce problems of winter road and rail maintenance, affecting the exploitation and transport of oil and gas in cold regions (UNEP, 2007; ACIA, 2004).
Shallow snow cover at low elevations in temperate regions is the most sensitive to temperature fluctuations and hence most likely to decline with increasing temperature (IPCC, 2007a, b).
For several of these impacts, adaptation can reduce the negative effects of snow-cover change. Some adaptation options, such as artificial snowmaking in the Alps to maintain tourism as a main source of income, have to be balanced against their negative implications for mitigation, due to increased energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
- References ACIA, 2004. Impacts of a warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact assessment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. Beniston, M., 2003. Climatic change in mountain regions: a review of possible impacts. Climatic Change 59: 5-31. Brodzik, M. J.; Armstrong, R. I.; Weatherhead, E. C.; Savoie, M. H.; Knowles, W. K. and Robinson, D. A., 2006. Regional trend analysis of satellite derived snow extent and global temperature anomalies, American Geophysical Union, Fall 2006. San Francisco, USA. Christensen, J. H. and Christensen, O. B., 2007. A summary of the PRUDENCE model projections of changes in European climate by the end of this century. Climatic Change 81: 7-30. Clark, M. P.; Serreze, M. C. and Robinson, D. A., 1999. Atmospheric controls on Eurasian snow extent. International Journal of Climatology 19: 27-40. Dye, D. G., 2002. Variability and trends in the annual snowcover cycle in Northern Hemisphere land areas, 1972-2000. Hydrological Processes 16: 3065-3077. Elsasser, H. and Bürki, R., 2002. Climate change as a threat to tourism in the Alps. Climate Research 20: 253-257. Falarz, M., 2002. Long-term variability in reconstructed and observed snow cover over the last 100 winter seasons in Cracow and Zakopane (southern Poland). Climate Research 19 (3): 247-256. Hantel, M. and Hirtl-Wielke, L.-M., 2007. Sensitivity of Alpine snow cover to European temperature. International Journal of Climatology 27: 1265-1275. Hosaka, M.; Nohara, D. and Kitoh, A., 2005. Changes in snow coverage and snow water equivalent due to global warming simulated by a 20 km-mesh global atmospheric model. Scientific Online Letters on the Atmosphere 1: 93-96. Hyvärinen, V., 2003. Trends and characteristics of hydrological time series in Finland. Nordic Hydrology 34 (1-2): 71-90. IPCC, 2007a. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Solomon, S.; Qin, D.; Manning, M.; Chen, Z.; Marquis, M.; Averyt, K. B.; Tignor M. and Miller H. L. (eds.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. IPCC, 2007b Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Parry, M. L.; Canziani, O. F.; Palutikof, J. P.; van der Linden, P. J. and Hanson, C. E. (eds.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. Jacob, D.; Göttel, H.; Lorenz, P., 2007. Hochaufgelöste regionale Klimaszenarien für Deutschland, Österreich und die Schweiz, DMG-Mitteilungen, 03/07, Berlin. Jylhä, K.; Fronzek, S.; Tuomenvirta, H.; Carter, T. R. and Ruosteenoja, K., 2007. Changes in frost and snow in Europe and Baltic sea ice by the end of the 21st century. Climatic Change, DOI 10.1007/s10584-007-9310-z. Kitajev, L.; Foerland, E.; Razuvaev, V.; Tveito, O. E. and Krueger, O., 2005. Distribution of snow cover over Northern Eurasia. Nordic Hydrology 36: 311-319. Kohler, J.; Brandt, O.; Johansson, M. and Callaghan, T., 2006. A long-term Arctic snow depth record from Abisko, northern Sweden, 1913-2004. Polar Research 25 (2): 91-113. OECD, 2007. Climate Change in the European Alps, OECD publishing; Paris, France. Petkova, N.; Koleva, E. and Alexandrov, V., 2004. Snow cover variability and change in mountainous regions of Bulgaria, 1931-2000. Meteorologische Zeitschrift 13 (1): 19-23. Rodríguez J. M. M. et al., 2005. Evaluación Preliminar de los Impactos en España por Efecto del Cambio Climático,Edita: Centro de Publicaciones. Secretaría General Técnica. Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, Madrid; Spain; 2005. Scherrer, S. C.; Appenzeller C. and Laternser, M., 2004. Trends in Swiss alpine snow days -- the role of local and large scale climate variability. Geophysical Research Letters 31, L13215. UNEP, 2007. Global outlook for snow and ice. UNEP Arendal/ Nairobi 2007. Vojtek, M.; Faško, P. Š ťastný, P., 2003. Some selected snow climate trends in Slovakia with respect to altitude. Acta Meteorologica Universitatis Comenianae 32: 17-27.
- Northern hemisphere snow-cover extent variation 1966-2005
- Observed change in spring snow-cover duration 1970-2004
- Annual number of days with snow cover over European land areas 1961-1990 and projected change for 2071-2100
Policy context and targets
In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The aim is to increase the resilience to climate change of health, property and the productive functions of land, inter alia by improving the management of water resources and ecosystems. More knowledge is needed on climate impact and vulnerability but a considerable amount of information and research already exists which can be shared better through a proposed Clearing House Mechanism. The White Paper stresses the need to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. A number of Member States have already taken action and several have prepared national adaptation plans. The EU is also developing actions to enhance and finance adaptation in developing countries as part of a new post-2012 global climate agreement expected in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009). For more information see: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/climat/adaptation/index_en.htm
No targets have been specified
Related policy documents
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Key policy question
Methodology for indicator calculation
Methodology for gap filling
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EEA data references
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External data references
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Data sets uncertainty
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Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
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Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoHans-Martin Füssel
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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