Articles | Volume 11, issue 2
10 Feb 2011
 | 10 Feb 2011

Ensemble analysis of frost damage on vegetation caused by spring backlashes in a warmer Europe

A. M. Jönsson and L. Bärring

Abstract. Tree dehardening and budburst will occur earlier in a warmer climate, and this could lead to an increased risk of frost damage caused by temperature backlashes. By using a spring backlash index and a cold hardiness model, we assessed different aspects of risk for frost damage in Norway spruce forests during the present climate and for one future emission scenario. Uncertainties associated with climate modelling were quantified by using temperature data from three climate data sets: (1) E-Obs gridded observed climate data, (2) an ensemble of data from eight regional climate models (RCM) forced by ERA-40 reanalysis data, (3) an ensemble of regional climate scenarios produced by the regional climate model RCA3 driven at the boundary conditions by seven global climate models (GCM), all representing the SRES A1B emission scenario.

The frost risk was analysed for three periods, 1961–1990, 2011–2040 and 2070–2097. The RCA3_GCM ensemble indicated that the risk for spring frost damage may increase in the boreo-nemoral forest zone of southern Scandinavia and the Baltic states/Belarus. This is due to an increased frequency of backlashes, lower freezing temperatures after the onset of the vegetation period and the last spring frost occurring when the trees are closer to budburst. The changes could be transient due to the fine balance between an increased risk of frost damage caused by dehardening during a period when freezing temperatures are common and a decreased risk caused by warmer temperatures. In the nemoral zone, the zone with highest risk for spring backlashes during the reference period (1961–1990), the spring frost severity may increase due to frost events occurring when the trees are closer to budburst. However, the risk in terms of frequency of backlashes and freezing temperature were projected to become lower already in the beginning of this century.