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Keywords:

  • global warming;
  • snow cover;
  • snow depth;
  • start of growing season;
  • temperate vegetation;
  • underground thermal condition

Abstract

Variations in seasonal snowfall regulate regional and global climatic systems and vegetation growth by changing energy budgets of the lower atmosphere and land surface. We investigated the effects of snow on the start of growing season (SGS) of temperate vegetation in China. Across the entire temperate region in China, the winter snow depth increased at a rate of 0.15 cm yr−1 (P = 0.07) during the period 1982–1998, and decreased at a rate of 0.36 cm yr−1 (P = 0.09) during the period 1998–2005. Correspondingly, the SGS advanced at a rate of 0.68 day yr−1 (P < 0.01) during 1982–1998, and delayed at a rate of 2.13 day yr−1 (P = 0.07) during 1998–2005, against a warming trend throughout the entire study period of 1982–2005. Spring air temperature strongly regulated the SGS of both deciduous broad-leaf and coniferous forests, whereas the winter snow had a greater impact on the SGS of grassland and shrubs. Snow depth variation combined with air temperature contributed to the variability in the SGS of grassland and shrubs, as snow acted as an insulator and modulated the underground thermal conditions. In addition, differences were seen between the impacts of winter snow depth and spring snow depth on the SGS; as snow depths increased, the effect associated went from delaying SGS to advancing SGS. The observed thresholds for these effects were snow depths of 6.8 cm (winter) and 4.0 cm (spring). The results of this study suggest that the response of the vegetation's SGS to seasonal snow change may be attributed to the coupling effects of air temperature and snow depth associated with the underground thermal conditions.