Published (reviewed and quality assured)
Justification for indicator selection
Snow 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. A decrease in snow cover contributes to accelerated climate change.
In Europe about half of the 800 million people live on areas that have snow cover in January in an average winter. Changes in snow cover affect human well-being through effects on water availability, hydropower, navigation, infrastructure, the livelihoods of indigenous Arctic people, environmental hazards, winter recreation and outdoor light conditions. Variation in snow cover affects winter road and rail maintenance, and the exploitation of natural resources in cold regions. Snow cover is most sensitive to climate change at low elevations in temperate regions.
- UNEP, 2007. Global outlook for snow and ice. UNEP, Arendal/Nairobi, 2007.
- IPCC, 2013. Climate Change: The Physical Science Basis Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T. F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P. M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
- Trend in spring snow cover extent over the Northern Hemisphere and in Europe
- Trend in March snow mass in Europe (excluding mountain areas)
- Projected change in Northern hemisphere spring snow cover extent
- Snow cover extent (million km²)
- % change in snow mass (kg)
- % change in snow cover extent (km²)
Policy context and targets
In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package (http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation/what/documentation_en.htm). This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change /* COM/2013/0216 final */ and a number of supporting documents. One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which should occur through Bridging the knowledge gap and Further developing Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Further objectives include Promoting action by Member States and Climate-proofing EU action: promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors. Many EU Member States have already taken action, such as by adopting national adaptation strategies, and several have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation.
The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. This webportal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
EU Adaptation Strategy Package
In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it will enhance the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
Key policy question
What is the trend in snow cover extent and snow mass in Europe?
Methodology for indicator calculation
Satellite observations on the monthly snow cover extent in the Northern Hemisphere are available since November 1966 from the Rutgers University Global Snow Lab. Reconstructed historical estimates are used to extend the time series back to 1922. Trend lines have been added for the satellite area.
Data on snow mass in Europe (exculding mountain areas) are available since 1979 from the Globsnow project. Trend lines have been added.
Projcted changes in snow cover extent up to 2100 are available from the CMIP5 ensemble of climate models for different climate forcing scenarios (RCPs).
Methodology for gap filling
- RUGSL (2011) Fall, Winter, and Spring Northern Hemisphere Snow Cover Extent RUGSL (2011) Fall, Winter, and Spring Northern Hemisphere Snow Cover Extent from the Rutgers University Global Snow Lab. Climate Science: Roger Pielke Sr.
- Luojus et al. 2012: Final Report. GlobSnow Deliverable 3.5. GlobSnow. Luojus, K., Pulliainen, J., Takala, M., Lemmetyinen, J., Kangwa, M., Sohlberg, R., Nagler, T., Rott, H., Derksen, C., Wiesmann, A., Metsämäki, S. and Bojkov, B. (2011) Final Report. GlobSnow Deliverable 3.5. GlobSnow.
- Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover variability and change over 1922–2010 including an assessment of uncertainty R. D. Brown and D. A. Robinson: Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover variability and change over 1922–2010 including an assessment of uncertainty. The Cryosphere, 5, 219-229, 2011
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
External data references
Data sources in latest figures
Data sets uncertainty
Data on the cryosphere vary significantly with regard to availability and quality. Snow and ice cover have been monitored globally since satellite measurements started in the 1970s. Improvements in technology allow for more detailed observations and higher resolution. High quality long-term data is also available on glaciers throughout Europe.
Continuous efforts are being made to improve on knowledge of the cryosphere. Intensive development work is under way to develop projections, which are essential for scenarios of climate change impacts and adaptation. Due to their economic importance special effort is also devoted to improving real-time monitoring of, for example, snow cover.
Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/
No uncertainty has been specified
Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
Long term work
Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoHans-Martin Füssel
Frequency of updates
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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