Snow in the Arctic System
The White Arctic: A Snow-Impacts Synthesis for the Terrestrial Arctic
Intellectual merit: A defining feature of the Arctic is a long-lasting snow cover. It persists 7 to 10 months of the year, making white the dominant surface color of both Arctic marine and terrestrial systems. On land, snow impacts the Arctic System in four essential ways: by increasing albedo, by insulating the ground, by affecting mobility and foraging of animals and human transportation and commerce, and by playing a key role in the freshwater cycle. While snow has been discussed in literally hundreds of papers and appears in dozens of models (from process-level to GCM), a comprehensive, snow-centric synthesis has never been undertaken. Current information and knowledge related to snow tends to be compartmentalized by discipline, dispersed throughout the literature, and rarely inclusive. Such a synthesis is needed now more than ever because both the duration and the nature of the arctic snowpack are changing.
In the proposed work, the PI's take a comprehensive approach to snow that will produce a better understanding of how changing snow conditions will affect the Arctic System. The proposed terrestrial snow work completes the suite of synthesis studies on the Arctic System undertaken in the first phase of the SASS Program by combining with an existing study of snow on sea ice, thereby producing a full system-wide assessment of snow impacts. The proposed synthesis is organized into five tasks designed to provide answers to several pressing snow-related questions: 1) collect pan-Arctic datasets, 2) merge tools and models to simulate Arctic snow-related features, 3) produce spatially distributed time evolving distributions of snow properties and characteristics for the terrestrial pan-Arctic System, 4) from these distributions develop a set of integrated indices and derived products that capture the essential snow-related impacts, and 5) use the impact indices to better understand the Arctic System.
Broader impacts: The proposed synthesis will substantially advance our understanding of the complex role of snow in the Arctic System. The datasets and process-oriented modeling produced by this synthesis will be of particular value in advancing large-scale climate models, terrestrial ecology, and atmospheric chemistry. Through interaction with these communities we will provide datasets that can be directly employed to examine problems in a wide range of interdisciplinary studies. To facilitate the transfer of the findings, the PI's will publish a scholarly article describing how best to deal with snow at the system level, and will host an open tutorial workshop in year-3 of this synthesis project. The meeting objectives will be to present synthesis findings and discuss key synthesis questions. They also expect this work to provide direct guidance for the planning of future field research efforts, such as during the International Polar Year and beyond. Synthesis activities within the group will be fostered by close collaboration and an annual team meeting. The PI's will also participate in synthesis activities planned between other SASS projects and will integrate graduate and undergraduate students into the research, both through direct involvement and by providing opportunities for students working on other Arctic research projects to become involved in our project. This interaction will allow students to visit and work with the different research groups to gain different perspectives on the overall problem. Education and outreach activities aimed at elementary school students are also planned and they will create scientific puzzles regarding the role of snow in the Arctic System.