Projected decline in spring snow depth on Arctic sea ice caused by progressively later autumn open ocean freeze-up this century
Article first published online: 15 SEP 2012
©2012. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.
Geophysical Research Letters
Volume 39, Issue 17, 16 September 2012
How to Cite
2012), Projected decline in spring snow depth on Arctic sea ice caused by progressively later autumn open ocean freeze-up this century, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L17505, doi:10.1029/2012GL052794., , , , and (
- Issue published online: 15 SEP 2012
- Article first published online: 15 SEP 2012
- Manuscript Accepted: 5 AUG 2012
- Manuscript Revised: 24 JUL 2012
- Manuscript Received: 19 JUN 2012
- ringed seals;
- sea ice;
- snow depth
 We present the first analysis of snow depth on Arctic sea ice in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5) because of its importance for sea ice thermodynamics and ringed seal (Phoca hispida) habitat. Snow depths in April on Arctic sea ice decrease over the 21st century in RCP2.6, RCP4.5, and RCP8.5 scenarios. The chief cause is loss of sea ice area in autumn and, to a lesser extent, winter. By the end of the 21st century in the RCP8.5 scenario, snowfall accumulation is delayed by about three months compared to the late 20th century in the multi-model mean. Mean April snow depth north of 70°N declines from about 28 cm to 16 cm. Precipitation increases as expected in a warmer climate, but much of this increase in the Arctic occurs as rainfall. The seasonality of snowfall rate grows, with increasing rates in winter and decreasing rates in summer and autumn, but the cumulative snowfall from September to April does not change. Ringed seals depend on spring snow cover on Arctic sea ice to create subnivean birth lairs. The area with snow depths above 20 cm — a threshold needed for ringed seals to build snow caves — declines by 70%.