Northern hemisphere freezing/thawing index variations over the twentieth century Academic Article uri icon


  • Changes in the ground thermal regime in high-latitude cold regions have important consequences for surface and subsurface hydrology, the surface energy and moisture balance, carbon exchange, as well as ecosystem diversity and productivity. However, assessing these changes, particularly in light of significant atmospheric and terrestrial changes in recent decades, remains a challenge owing to data sparseness and discontinuous observations. The annual freezing and thawing index can be useful in evaluating permafrost and seasonally frozen ground distribution, has important engineering applications, and is a useful indicator of high-latitude climate change. The freezing/thawing index is generally defined based on daily observations, which are not readily available for many high-latitude locations. We thus employ monthly air temperatures, and provide an assessment of the validity of this approach. On the basis of a comprehensive relative error (RE) evaluation we find that our methodology introduces errors of less than 5% for most high-latitude land areas, and works well in many midlatitude regions as well. We evaluate a suite of gridded monthly temperature datasets and select the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) temperature product, available for 1901-2002. We are thus able to provide a continuous long-term 25 km 25 km gridded Northern Hemisphere freezing/thawing index. Long-term climatologies of the freezing/thawing index delineate the cold regions of the Northern Hemisphere, as well as areas of seasonally frozen ground and permafrost. Objective trend analysis indicates that in recent decades, no significant changes have occurred in Russian permafrost regions; however, seasonally frozen ground areas are experiencing significant warming trends. Over North America, Canadian and Alaskan permafrost regions are experiencing a decrease in freezing index during the cold season, while coastal areas and eastern Canada are seeing significant increase in warm season thawing index. Copyright 2006 Royal Meteorological Society.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Frauenfeld, O. W., Zhang, T., & McCreight, J. L.

citation count

  • 122

complete list of authors

  • Frauenfeld, Oliver W||Zhang, Tingjun||McCreight, James L

publication date

  • January 2007