National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2005

Detecting Arctic climate change using Köppen classification

Wang, M., and J.E. Overland

Climatic Change, 67(1), 43–62, doi: 10.1007/s10584-004-4786-2 (2004)

Ecological impacts of the recent warming trend in the Arctic are already noted as changes in tree line and a decrease in tundra area with the replacement of ground cover by shrubs in northern Alaska and several locations in northern Eurasia. The potential impact of vegetation changes to feedbacks on the atmospheric climate system is substantial because of the large land area impacted and the multi-year persistence of the vegetation cover. Satellite NDVI estimates beginning in 1981 and the Köppen climate classification, which relates surface types to monthly mean air temperatures from 1901 onward, track these changes on an Arctic-wide basis. Temperature fields from the NCEP/NCAR reanalysis and CRU analysis serve as proxy for vegetation cover over the century. A downward trend in the coverage of tundra group for the first 40 yr of the twentieth century was followed by two increases during 1940s and early 1960s, and then a rapid decrease in the last 20 yr. The decrease of tundra group in the 1920-40 period was localized, mostly over Scandinavia; whereas the decrease since 1990 is primarily pan-Arctic, but largest in NW Canada, and eastern and coastal Siberia. The decrease in inferred tundra coverage from 1980 to 2000 was 1.4 × 106 km2, or about a 20% reduction in tundra area based on the CRU analyses. This rate of decrease is confirmed by the NDVI data. These tundra group changes in the last 20 yr are accompanied by increase in the area of both the boreal and temperate groups. During the tundra group decrease in the first half of the century boreal group area also decreased while temperate group area increased. The calculated minimum coverage of tundra group from both the K¨oppen classification and NDVI indicates that the impact of warming on the spatial coverage of the tundra group in the 1990s is the strongest in the century, and will have multi-decadal consequences for the Arctic.

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