Report Open Access
This is chapter 9 of the State of Environmental Science in Svalbard (SESS) report 2020 (https://sios-svalbard.org/SESS_Issue3).
Fundamental knowledge gaps and scaling issues hamper efforts to determine how changes in snow cover and snow distribution affect ecosystems. The presence of snow cover has huge impact on Arctic ecosystems, human activities, atmospheric processes and Earth’s surface energy balance. Mapping snow cover over large regions is challenging because of its variability over time and space. Also, the small number of weather stations that measure snow cover contributes to a poor observational base. Svalbard is located on the border between the ice-covered Arctic Ocean and the warmer North Atlantic, which means the sea is a controlling factor for Svalbard’s climate. By using remote sensing monitoring it is possible to get a better overview of snow conditions on land. This information can be compared with on-site observations of snow, output from snow models, and evaluated in relation to the sea-ice extent in the adjacent sea. A 34-year satellite data record for snow cover indicates that snow now starts melting more than a week earlier. The total number of snow-free days in summer is increasing fastest in regions dominated by lowland valleys and coastal plains. Most noticeable are the trends centred near the large valleys of Nordenskiöld Land. Negative trends dominate the extent of the sea ice as well. There is significant and positive correlation between sea-ice area and snow-cover extent at elevations up to 250 m in June, the month when snow melt begins. Snow melt, again, is probably strongly affected by ocean–air interactions and energy exchange when warm (or cold) winds from an open (or ice-covered) ocean come in over land.