Published on 6 March 2020
For some species, surviving winter would be difficult to impossible without a layer of snow. Certain plants, animals, and microbes rely on the protective and insulating habitat that lies in the space between the bottom of the snow layer and the top of the frozen ground. But this zone of refuge—called the “subnivium”—is at risk in many areas around the planet.
Likai Zhu of Linyi University and colleagues used data from NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to conclude that global warming has already affected this important habitat, particularly in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. The research, published in Nature Climate Change, shows that organisms now have to endure more winter days with frozen ground but less protective snow cover. Global climate models also show that such changes will continue into the future.