Snow acts as a thermal blanket for plants and animals by trapping air in its crystal structure. The insulating effect of snow helps ground soil retain warmth and moisture during winter and protects plants and organisms from freezing winds and evaporation. In the northern hemisphere, animals such as bears and groundhogs also rely on the thermal properties of snow during hibernation.
Like ice, snow relfects a large amount of solar energy and heat that is normally absorbed by the surface of the Earth. The amount of solar radiation relfected back into space compared to the amount that is absorbed is known as 'albedo'. Without winter snowcover, the surface of the earth would absorb 4-6 times the amount of solar radiation.
Spring snowmelts are a vital source of drinking and agricultural water supplies in much of the northern hemisphere.
The link between global snow albedo and climate is complex, but a declining trend in seasonal snow cover due to global warming has meant that the Earth's albedo is becoming weaker, with less solar radiation and heat reflected back into space. Since winter snows are also melting earlier each spring, a time when there is typically more sunlight, the loss of albedo is reducing the vital cooling effect that snow has on balancing global temperatures. The overall effect is the acceleration of global warming each year.
The decline in seasonal snow falls is also affecting the environment in other ways. Whilst less overall snow during winter means less water for reservoirs, agriculture, rivers and streams, higher seasonal temperatures can lead to rain and rapid snowmelts that cause flooding in early spring. Similarly, reduced snowcover can expose plants and animals to harsh conditions at unexpected times, or else suffocate them during extreme blizzard events that deposit too much snow in small areas.
The reality of climate change and endangered species can cause distress due to feelings of overwhelm, uncertainty, and helplessness. These feelings are a normal and natural response to the thought of losing something you value - similar to how you might feel if someone you cherished was threatened. The good news is that wilderness environments are resilient and won't be devastated by global warming overnight. Many organisations also work locally and globally toward a sustainable future to protect endangered species and biodiversity. There is time to make a difference. EcoVR can help by providing calming and enriching virtual experiences that remind you of your natural connection to the wider world. Promoting a calm response to global warming that is informed and empowered by a mixture of actual and virtual eco experiences is our goal.