Snow cover impacts alpine land surface phenology in various ways, but our knowledge about the effect of snow cover on alpine land surface phenology is still limited. We studied this relationship in the European Alps using satellite-derived metrics of snow cover phenology (SCP), namely, first snow fall, last snow day, and snow cover duration (SCD), in combination with land surface phenology (LSP), namely, start of season (SOS), end of season, and length of season (LOS) for the period of 2003–2014. We tested the dependency of interannual differences (Δ) of SCP and LSP metrics with altitude (up to 3000 m above sea level) for seven natural vegetation types, four main climatic subregions, and four terrain expositions. We found that 25.3% of all pixels showed significant (p < 0.05) correlation between ΔSCD and ΔSOS and 15.3% between ΔSCD and ΔLOS across the entire study area. Correlations between ΔSCD and ΔSOS as well as ΔSCD and ΔLOS are more pronounced in the northern subregions of the Alps, at high altitudes, and on north and west facing terrain—or more generally, in regions with longer SCD. We conclude that snow cover has a greater effect on alpine phenology at higher than at lower altitudes, which may be attributed to the coupled influence of snow cover with underground conditions and air temperature.
Alpine ecosystems may therefore be particularly sensitive to future change of snow cover at high altitudes under climate warming scenarios.