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How does climate change and vegetation growth affect snow properties and permafrost temperature?

Project summary

The properties of snow on the ground change over time and these changes are affected by temperature and wind, i.e. climate. With climate change, snow properties therefore change. In particular, the thermal insulation properties of snow may change and this may affect permafrost stability. Shrubs such as willows are also growing in some places on the tundra. These trap snow and protect it from wind erosion. The dark shrub branches in the snow absorb light and make the snow warmer, and this also produces changes in snow properties.

Snow properties are important for permafrost temperature but also for wildlife. Lemmings live under the snow and need to travel under the snow in search of food in winter. They are therefore sensitive to snow properties and climate change may strongly affect their populations, and of course also the populations of their predators.

In 2013, we began a program to study snow properties and in particular its thermal insulation effects on Bylot Island. We monitor some properties all winter long with automated instruments and come every year in spring for additional measurement. We hope to improve our ability to predict how snow properties will evolve and how this will affect permafrost. We also discuss our data with biologists to help them better understand how snow properties influence wildlife such as lemmings and their predators.


Project Location

The project takes place on Bylot Island, in Qarlikturvik Valley. The closest village is Pond Inlet. 



Florent Domine, 

Professor Université Laval, Center for Northern Studies

Quebec City

418 656 2131 ext. 7387



Photo 1. Lemmings need a layer of soft depth hoar to easily dig galleries.

Photo 2. Willows growing on tundra trap snow and modify its properties.

Photo 3. Willows favor the formation of ice in the snow