13.3 Frequency and Distribution of Winter Melt Events from Passive Microwave Satellite Data in the pan-Arctic, 1988-2013

Thursday, 18 August 2016: 5:00 PM
Madison Ballroom CD (Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center)
Libo Wang, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Toronto, ON, Canada; and P. Toose, R. Brown, and C. Derksen

This study presents an algorithm for detecting winter melt events in seasonal snow cover based on temporal variations in the brightness temperature difference between 19 and 37 GHz from satellite passive microwave measurements. An advantage of the passive microwave approach is that it is based on the physical presence of liquid water in the snowpack, which may not be the case with melt events inferred from air temperature data. The algorithm is validated using in situ observations from weather stations, snowpit surveys, and surface-based passive microwave radiometer. The results of running the algorithm over the pan-Arctic region (north of 50ยบ N) for the 1988-2013 period show that the winter melt days are relatively rare averaging less than 7 melt days per winter over most areas, with higher melt days (around two weeks per winter) occurring in more temperate regions of the Arctic (e.g. central Quebec and Labrador, southern Alaska, and Scandinavia). The observed spatial pattern was similar to winter melt events inferred with surface air temperatures from ERA-interim and MERRA reanalysis datasets. There was little evidence of trends in winter melt frequency except decreases over northern Europe attributed to a shortening of the duration of the winter period. The frequency of winter melt events is shown to be strongly correlated to the duration of winter period. This must be taken into account when analyzing trends to avoid generating false increasing trends from shifts in the timing of the snow cover season.
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