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Open AccessArticle

Role of Surface Melt and Icing Events in Livestock Mortality across Mongolia’s Semi-Arid Landscape

1
Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group, WA Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA
2
Department of Geography, Heidelberg University, Heidelberg 69120, Germany
3
Panthera, New York City, NY 10018, USA
4
Southwest Alaska Network Inventory and Monitoring Program, National Park Service, Anchorage, AK 99501, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Remote Sens. 2019, 11(20), 2392; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs11202392
Received: 7 September 2019 / Revised: 12 October 2019 / Accepted: 14 October 2019 / Published: 16 October 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Recent Developments in Remote Sensing for Physical Geography)
Livestock production is a socioeconomic linchpin in Mongolia and is affected by large-scale livestock die-offs. Colloquially known as dzuds, these die-offs are driven by anomalous climatic events, including extreme cold temperatures, extended snow cover duration (SCD) and drought. As average temperatures across Mongolia have increased at roughly twice the global rate, we hypothesized that increasing cold season surface melt including soil freeze/thaw (FT), snowmelt, and icing events associated with regional warming have become increasingly important drivers of dzud events as they can reduce pasture productivity and inhibit access to grazing. Here, we use daily brightness temperature (Tb) observations to identify anomalous surface melt and icing events across Mongolia from 2003–2016 and their contribution to dzuds relative to other climatic drivers, including winter temperatures, SCD, and drought. We find a positive relationship between surface melt and icing events and livestock mortality during the fall in southern Mongolia and during the spring in the central and western regions. Further, anomalous seasonal surface melt and icing events explain 17–34% of the total variance in annual livestock mortality, with cold temperatures as the leading contributor of dzuds (20–37%). Summer drought showed the greatest explanatory power (43%) but overall had less statistically significant relationships relative to winter temperatures. Our results indicate that surface melt and icing events will become an increasingly important driver of dzuds as annual temperatures and livestock populations are projected to increase in Mongolia. View Full-Text
Keywords: Mongolia; snow cover; snow melt; freeze/thaw; climate change; passive microwave remote sensing Mongolia; snow cover; snow melt; freeze/thaw; climate change; passive microwave remote sensing
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Pan, C.G.; Kimball, J.S.; Munkhjargal, M.; Robinson, N.P.; Tijdeman, E.; Menzel, L.; Kirchner, P.B. Role of Surface Melt and Icing Events in Livestock Mortality across Mongolia’s Semi-Arid Landscape. Remote Sens. 2019, 11, 2392.

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