Looking into the future of Arctic winters
The Arctic warms more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, especially in winter. Climate change has very strong effects here. Winter warming impacts both permafrost and vegetation. Further warming of the Arctic will thaw permafrost soils, while mid-winter warm spells melt away the protective snow cover that plants rely on to survive the long and harsh winters.
The cold season may contribute up to half of the yearly release of greenhouse gases from permafrost soils, while extreme winter events such as rain-on-snow or thaw-freeze events have increased in frequency. Damage from these events lowers the ability of plants to take up CO2 from the atmosphere.
- This is why warmer arctic winters can lead to strong climate feedbacks. But we do not know much about how these processes will develop in the future, says Frans-Jan Parmentier, LUCCI-affiliated researcher at Lund University, and the University of Tromsø.
The importance of the winter for permafrost emissions and vegetation damage has only become apparent in recent years. Observations were primarily focused on the summer, which is why model implementations of the Arctic’s response to climate change generally overlooked the winter period.
- To solve this situation, we will simulate wintertime processes that affect arctic climate feedbacks with the computer model LPJ-GUESS. LPJ-GUESS is a process-based dynamic vegetation-terrestrial ecosystem model with which the future response of vegetation and permafrost to climate change can be simulated. Through this project, we will obtain more reliable projections on how arctic winter warming may lead to further climate change, explains Frans-Jan Parmentier.