Water is life. Snow is one of many forms of water. Snow is life. Seasonal snow is an essential part of Mother Earth’s climate system. Snow cover helps to regulate the temperature of Mother Earth’s surface, and once that snow melts, the water helps fill rivers and reservoirs in many regions of the world.
Snow reflects solar energy back into space, which helps cool the planet. The sunlight reflected back into the atmosphere is very high (80 to 90% of the incoming sunlight). However, dirty snow or dust-covered snow can reflect much less. Trees, plants, and soil can only reflect 10 to 30 percent of sunlight.
Snow cover acts like an insulating blanket holding in heat and preventing moisture from evaporating into the atmosphere. Even on top of other frozen material, such as river ice or sea ice, snow cover prevents ice from forming as quickly.
Some animal relatives take advantage of snow’s insulation. New snow is composed of a high percentage of air trapped (90 to 95 %) among the accumulated snow crystals. Since the air can barely move, heat transfer is minimal.
Hatchlings are capable of tolerating sub-zero temperatures but rely on snow cover to serve as an insulating blanket against low temperatures.
Snow cover serves as a blanket for others to go under. With snow 6 inches to a foot deep, the Cottontail Rabbits and Snowshoe Hares find hiding places much easier to come by. Ruffed Grouse bury themselves for several days if needed. Squirrels descend from the trees and dig tunnels under the snow to cover long distances. However, no one seems to make use of the snow for tunneling as do the Meadow or Field Mice!
Many Arctic and Indigenous Peoples have depended on snow for their livelihoods since time immemorial. Because of their long association with snow, Indigenous Peoples have developed a deep relationship and complex understanding of snow processes. Thus, they are noticing significant changes on snow, land and all beings.
In the Northen hemisphere (NH), metrics like snow cover extent, snow depth, and amount of water in snow are decreasing. Long-term snow trends overall show decreases especially in Turtle Island (North America). The chart in our images shows the trend in spring snow cover decline in the NH. — Credit: Rutgers Global Snow Lab.
With decreased snow cover, the NH reflects less energy into space, absorbs more solar radiation, adding heat to the system and melting more snow. Where snow cover is disappearing earlier in the spring, the large amounts of energy that would have melted the snow can now directly warm the soil.
Protecting forests and undeveloped lands that we can reduce the heat that goes into the system!