The critical benefits of snowpack insulation and snowmelt for winter wheat productivity

Peng Zhu, Taegon Kim, Zhenong Jin, Chenxi Lin, Xuhui Wang, Philippe Ciais, Nathaniel D. Mueller, Amir Aghakouchak, Jianxi Huang, D J Mulla, David Makowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


How climate change will affect overwintering crops is largely unknown due to the complex and understudied interactions among temperature, rainfall and snowpack. Increases in average winter temperature should release cold limitations yet warming-induced reductions of snowpack thickness should lead to decreased insulation effects and more exposure to freezing. Here, using statistical models, we show that the presence of snowpack weakens yield sensitivity to freezing stress by 22% during 1999–2019. By 2080–2100, we project that reduced snow cover insulation will offset up to one-third of the yield benefit (8.8 ± 1.1% for RCP 4.5 and 11.8 ± 1.4% for RCP 8.5) from reduced frost stress across the United States. Furthermore, by 2080–2100 future decline in wheat growing season snowfall (source of snowmelt) will drive a yield loss greater than the yield benefit from increasing rainfall. Explicitly considering these factors is critical to predict the climate change impacts on winter wheat production in snowy regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-490
Number of pages6
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work is partially supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative to Z.J. under award no. 2021-51181-35861. P.Z. and P.C. are supported by the CLAND project (grant no. 16-CONV-0003) and ISIPEDIA: The Open Inter-Sectoral Impacts Encyclopedia (grant no. ANR-17-ERA4-0006—ISIPEDIA). D.M. is supported by the CLAND project (grant no. 16-CONV-0003) and meta-program CLIMAE-INRAE. C.L. is supported by the MnDRIVE Informatics PhD Graduate Fellowship.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.


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