Quantifying the effects of freeze-thaw transitions and snowpack melt on land surface albedo and energy exchange over Alaska and Western Canada

Youngwook Kim, John S. Kimball, Jinyang Du, Crystal L.B. Schaaf, Peter B. Kirchner

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10 Scopus citations


Variations in land surface albedo and snow-cover strongly impact the global biosphere, particularly through the snow-albedo feedback on climate. The seasonal freeze-thaw (FT) transition is coupled with snowpack melt dynamics and strongly impacts surface water mobility and the energy budget in the northern (≥45N) arctic and boreal region (ABR). However, understanding of the regional variation in snowmelt and its effect on the surface energy budget are limited due to sparse in situ measurements of these processes and environmental constraints on effective monitoring within the ABR. In this study, we combined synergistic observations from overlapping satellite optical-infrared and microwave sensor records to quantify the regional patterns and seasonal progression in wet snow conditions during the spring snowmelt and autumn snow accumulation periods across Alaska and western Canada. The integrated satellite record included daily landscape FT status from AMSR microwave brightness temperature retrievals; and snow-cover extent, black sky albedo and net shortwave solar radiation (Rsnet) derived from MODIS and AVHRR observations. The integrated satellite records were analyzed with in situ surface air temperature and humidity observations from regional weather stations over a two-year study period (2015-2016) overlapping with the NASA ABoVE (Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment). Our results show a large (79%) mean decline in land surface albedo between dry snow and snow-free conditions during the spring (March-June) and autumn (August-November) transition periods. Onset of diurnal thawing and refreezing of the surface snow layer and associated wet snow conditions in spring contributed to an approximate 25% decrease in snow cover albedo that extended over a seven to 21 week snowpack depletion period. The lower wet snow albedo enhances Rsnet by approximately 74% (9-10 MJ m−2 d−1) relative to dry snow conditions, reinforcing snowmelt and surface warming, and contributing to growing season onset and activation of biological and hydrological processes in the ABR. These results contribute to better understanding of snow albedo feedbacks to Arctic amplification, and the representation of these processes in global Earth system models.

Original languageEnglish
Article number075009
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 6 2018


  • ABoVE
  • AMSR
  • Albedo
  • Freeze-thaw
  • Snow


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