Indicators of Winter Climate Change in the Northern Forest
This Science Links publication is based on the following two studies:
Contosta, A.R., Casson, N.J., Garlick, S., Nelson, S.J., Ayres, M.P., Burakowski, E.A., Campbell, J., Creed, I., Eimers, C., Evans, C., Fernandez, I., Fuss, C., Son, K., Templer, P., Thornbrugh, C. (2019), Northern forest winters have lost cold, snowy conditions that are important for ecosystems and human communities. Ecological Applications, 29(7), https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.1974.
Contosta, A.R., Casson, N.J., Nelson, S.J, Garlick, S., (2019), Defining frigid winter illuminates its loss across seasonally snow-covered areas of eastern North America. Environmental Research Letters, https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab54f3.
A team of scientists examined one hundred years of winter temperature and precipitation data from weather stations across the forested areas of the northeastern United States, eastern Canada, and Great Lakes region.
Their results show a clear picture of fewer days with cold temperatures and declining snowpack over the last century. This loss of cold and snow, in a region historically adapted to cold, snowy winters, has profound implications for water, wildlife, forests, and people.
“Whether precipitation falls as snow or rain makes a huge difference—whether you’re a skier, a snowshoe hare, or a forest stream,” said Dr. Alexandra Contosta, the lead author of the synthesis study. Winter climate change may fundamentally reshape the interconnected social and ecological systems of the northern forest.
This research provides a set of specific indicators of how winter conditions are changing, right now, on the ground, in northeastern North America. For example, the number of frost days per year are decreasing; the number of days when temperatures are cold enough to kill invasive mosquitoes or cold enough for ski areas to make snow are decreasing; and the number of bare-ground days in winter are increasing.
These findings can inform the decisions of individuals, businesses, and communities about how to prepare for and adapt to human-caused climate change. This work also provides evidence for policymakers about how climate change is already affecting the people and ecosystems of the northern forest.
Additional Assets: The following figures, tables, and images from the report are available to download. When using any of these assets, please attribute "Courtesy of the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation."