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Carbon response to changing winter conditions in northern regions: current understanding and emerging research needs

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Campbell, John L.; Laudon, Hjalmar

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Environmental Reviews


Winter is an important period for ecological processes in northern regions; however, compared to other seasons, the impacts of winter climate on ecosystems are poorly understood. In this review we evaluate the influence of winter climate on carbon dynamics based on the current state of knowledge and highlight emerging topics and future research challenges. Studies that have addressed this topic include plot-scale snow cover manipulation experiments that alter soil temperatures, empirical investigations along natural climatic gradients, laboratory temperature incubation experiments aimed at isolating influential factors in controlled environments, and time series of climate and carbon data that evaluate long-term natural variation and trends. Combined, these studies have demonstrated how winter climate can influence carbon in complex ways that in some cases are consistent across studies and in other cases are difficult to predict. Despite advances in our understanding, there is a great need for studies that further explore: (i) carry-over effects from one season to another, (ii) ecosystem processes in the fall–winter and winter–spring shoulder seasons, (iii) the impacts of extreme events, (iv) novel experimental approaches, and (v) improvements to models to include ecological effects of winter climate. We also call for the establishment of an international winter climate change research network that enhances collaboration and coordination among studies, which could provide a more thorough understanding of how the snow-covered period influences carbon cycling, thereby improving our ability to predict future responses to climate change.


carbon; climate change; cold season; snow; soil frost; winter


Campbell, John L.; Laudon, Hjalmar. 2019. Carbon response to changing winter conditions in northern regions: current understanding and emerging research needs. Environmental Reviews. 27(4): 545-566.

Last updated on: May 1, 2020