Climate Change and...
Effects of Climate Change
- Climate Variability
- Climate Models
Effects of Climate Change
ABSTRACT: For most of the global land area poleward of about 40° latitude, snow plays an important role in the water cycle. The (seasonal) timing of runoff in these areas is especially sensitive to projected losses of snowpack associated with warming trends, whereas projected (annual) runoff volume changes are primarily associated with precipitation changes, and to a lesser extent, with changes in evapotranspiration (ET). Regional studies in the USA (and especially the western USA) suggest that hydrologic adjustments to a warming climate have been ongoing since the mid-twentieth century. We extend the insights extracted from the western USA to the global scale using a physically based hydrologic model to assess the effects of systematic changes in precipitation and temperature on snow-affected portions of the global land area as projected by a suite of global climate models. While annual (and in some cases seasonal) changes in precipitation are a key driver of projected changes in annual runoff, we find, as in the western USA, that projected warming produces strong decreases in winter snow accumulation and spring snowmelt over much of the affected area regardless of precipitation change. Decreased snowpack produces decreases in warm-season runoff in many mid- to high-latitude areas where precipitation changes are either moderately positive or negative in the future projections. Exceptions, however, occur in some high-latitude areas, particular in Eurasia, where changes in projected precipitation are large enough to result in increased, rather than decreased, snow accumulation. Overall, projected changes in snowpack and the timing of snowmelt-derived runoff are largest near the boundaries of the areas that currently experience substantial snowfall, and at least qualitatively, they mirror the character of observed changes in the western USA.
ABSTRACT: Frequency distributions of daily precipitation in winter and daily stream flow from late winter to early summer, at several hundred sites in the western United States, exhibit strong and systematic responses to the two phases of ENSO. Most of the stream flows considered are driven by snowmelt. The Southern Oscillation index (SOI) is used as the ENSO phase indicator. Both modest (median) and larger (90th percentile) events were considered. In years with negative SOI values (El Niño), days with high daily precipitation and stream flow are more frequent than average over the Southwest and less frequent over the Northwest. During years with positive SOI values (La Niña), a nearly opposite pattern is seen. A more pronounced increase is seen in the number of days exceeding climatological 90th percentile values than in the number exceeding climatological 50th percentile values, for both precipitation and stream flow. Stream flow responses to ENSO extremes are accentuated over precipitation responses. Evidence suggests that the mechanism for this amplification involves ENSO-phase differences in the persistence and duration of wet episodes, affecting the efficiency of the process by which precipitation is converted to runoff. The SOI leads the precipitation events by several months, and hydrologic lags (mostly through snowmelt) delay the stream flow response by several more months. The combined 6–12-month predictive aspect of this relationship should be of significant benefit in responding to flood (or drought) risk and in improving overall water management in the western states.
Clark, M. P., Serreze, M. C., McCabe, G. J. (2001). Historical effects of El Niño and La Niña events on the seasonal evolution of the montane snowpack in the Columbia and Colorado River basins. Water Resources Research 37 (3): 741-757
ABSTRACT: Snow-water equivalent (SWE) data measured at several hundred montane sites in the western United States are used to examine the historic effects of El Niño and La Niña events on seasonal snowpack evolution in the major subbasins in the Columbia and Colorado River systems. Results are used to predict annual runoff. In the Columbia River Basin, there is a general tendency for decreased SWE during El Niño years and increased SWE in La Niña years. However, the SWE anomalies for El Niño years are much less pronounced. This occurs in part because midlatitude circulation anomalies in El Niño years are located 35° east of those in La Niña years. This eastward shift is most evident in midwinter, at which time, SWE anomalies associated with El Niño are actually positive in coastal regions of the Columbia River Basin. In the Colorado River Basin, mean anomalies in SWE and annual runoff during El Niño years depict a transition between drier-than-average conditions in the north, and wetter-than-average conditions in the southwest. Associations during La Niña years are generally opposite those in El Niño years. SWE anomalies tend to be more pronounced in spring in the Lower Colorado River Basin. Our predictions of runoff reveal modest skill for scenarios using only historic El Niño and La Niña information. Predictions based on the water stored in the seasonal snowpack are, in almost all cases, much higher than those based on El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) information alone. However, combining observed midwinter snow conditions with information on seasonal snowpack evolution associated with ENSO improves predictions for basins in which ENSO signals exhibit strong seasonality.
ABSTRACT: Snow water equivalent anomalies (SWEA) measured around April 1 by stations in the Columbia basin area in British Columbia, Canada, were studied for their interannual variability during the period 1950–1999, particularly in relation to El Niño/La Niña events and to high and low Pacific–North American (PNA) atmospheric circulation patterns. Composites of the SWEA showed that SWEA were negative during El Niño years, positive during La Niña years, negative during high PNA years, and positive during low PNA years. High PNA appeared to have the most impact on the SWEA, followed by La Niña, El Niño, and low PNA. In the Columbia basin area, La Niña effects (relative to El Niño effects) on SWEA decrease northward and eastward but strengthen with elevation. Composites of the Pacific sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTA) during the 10 lowest SWEA years revealed weak signals, with El Niño warm SSTA present only during spring and early summer in the preceding year and the SSTA pattern consistent with a high PNA present by fall and winter. In contrast, composites of the SSTA during the 10 highest SWEA years showed strong La Niña cool SSTA starting around May in the preceding year and lasting onto winter.
Hamlet, A. F., P. W. Mote, M. Clark, D. P. Lettenmaier (2005). Effects of temperature and precipitation variability on snowpack trends in the western United States. Journal of Climate 18 (21): 4545-4561
ABSTRACT: Recent studies have shown substantial declines in snow water equivalent (SWE) over much of the western US in the last half century, as well as trends towards earlier spring snowmelt and peak spring streamflows. These trends are influenced both by interannual and decadal scale climate variability, and also by temperature trends at longer time scales that are generally consistent with observations of global warming over the 20th century.
In this study we examine linear trends in April 1 snow water equivalent (SWE) over the western US as simulated by the Variable Infiltration Capacity hydrologic model implemented at 1/8 degree latitude-longitude spatial resolution, and driven by a carefully quality controlled gridded daily precipitation and temperature data set for the period 1915-2003. The long simulations of snowpack are used as surrogates for observations, and are the basis for an analysis of regional trends in snowpack over the western U.S. and southern British Columbia.
By isolating the trends due to temperature and precipitation in separate simulations, the influence of temperature and precipitation variability on the overall trends in SWE is evaluated. Downward trends in April 1 SWE over the western U.S. from 1916 to 2003, 1947-2003, and for a time series constructed using two warm Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) epochs concatenated together, are shown to be primarily due to widespread warming. These temperature-related trends are not well explained by decadal climate variability associated with the PDO. Trends in SWE associated with precipitation trends, however, are very different in different time periods and are apparently largely controlled by decadal variability rather than longer term trends in climate.
ABSTRACT: The value of using climate indices such as ENSO or PDO in water resources predictions is dependent on understanding the local relationship between these indices and streamflow over time. This study identifies long term seasonal and spatial variations in the strength of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) correlations with timing and magnitude of discharge in snowmelt streams in Oregon. ENSO is best correlated with variability in annual discharge, and PDO is best correlated with spring snowmelt timing and magnitude and timing of annual floods. Streams in the Cascades and Wallowa mountains show the strongest correlations, while the southernmost stream is not correlated with ENSO or PDO. ENSO correlations are weaker from 1920 to 1950 and vary significantly depending on whether Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) or Niño 3.4 is used. PDO correlations are strong from 1920 to 1950 and weak or insignificant other years. Although there are not consistent increasing or decreasing trends in annual discharge or spring snowmelt timing, there are significant increases in fractional winter runoff that are independent of precipitation, PDO, or ENSO and may indicate monotonic winter warming.
ABSTRACT: Snow course and SNOTEL measurements of spring snowpack, corroborated by a physically-based hydrologic model, are examined here for climate-driven fluctuations and trends during the period 1916-2002. Much of the mountain West has experienced declines in spring snowpack, especially since mid-century, and despite increases in winter precipitation in many places. Analysis and modeling shows that climatic trends are the dominant factor, not changes in land use, forest canopy, or other factors. The largest decreases have occurred where winter temperatures are mild, especially in the Cascade Mountains and Northern California. In most mountain ranges, relative declines grow from minimal at ridgetop to substantial at snowline. Taken together, these results emphasize that although the Pacific Decadal Oscillation has played some role in fluctuations in the region’s SWE, the West’s snow resources are already declining as Earth’s climate warms.
ABSTRACT: April 1 snowpack accumulations measured at 311 snow courses in the western United States (U.S.) are grouped using a correlation-based cluster analysis. A conceptual snow accumulation and melt model and monthly temperature and precipitation for each cluster are used to estimate cluster-average April 1 snowpack. The conceptual snow model is subsequently used to estimate future snowpack by using changes in monthly temperature and precipitation simulated by the Canadian Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis (CCC) and the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research (HADLEY) general circulation models (GCMs). Results for the CCC model indicate that although winter precipitation is estimated to increase in the future, increases in temperatures will result in large decreases in April 1 snowpack for the entire western US. Results for the HADLEY model also indicate large decreases in April 1 snowpack for most of the western US, but the decreases are not as severe as those estimated using the CCC simulations. Although snowpack conditions are estimated to decrease for most areas of the western US, both GCMs estimate a general increase in winter precipitation toward the latter half of the next century. Thus, water quantity may be increased in the western US; however, the timing of runoff will be altered because precipitation will more frequently occur as rain rather than as snow.
D. R. Cayan, S. A. Kammerdiener, M. D. Dettinger, J. M. Caprio, D.H. Peterson (2001). Changes in the onset of spring in the western United States. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 82 (3): 399-415
ABSTRACT: Fluctuations in spring climate in the western United States over the last 4–5 decades are described by examining changes in the blooming of plants and the timing of snowmelt–runoff pulses. The two measures of spring's onset that are employed are the timing of first bloom of lilac and honeysuckle bushes from a long–term cooperative phenological network, and the timing of the first major pulse of snowmelt recorded from high–elevation streams. Both measures contain year–to–year fluctuations, with typical year–to–year fluctuations at a given site of one to three weeks. These fluctuations are spatially coherent, forming regional patterns that cover most of the west. Fluctuations in lilac first bloom dates are highly correlated to those of honeysuckle, and both are significantly correlated with those of the spring snowmelt pulse. Each of these measures, then, probably respond to a common mechanism. Various analyses indicate that anomalous temperature exerts the greatest influence upon both interannual and secular changes in the onset of spring in these networks. Earlier spring onsets since the late 1970s are a remarkable feature of the records, and reflect the unusual spell of warmer–than–normal springs in western North America during this period. The warm episodes are clearly related to larger–scale atmospheric conditions across North America and the North Pacific, but whether this is predominantly an expression of natural variability or also a symptom of global warming is not certain.
ABSTRACT: The highly variable timing of streamflow in snowmelt-dominated basins across western North America is an important consequence, and indicator, of climate fluctuations. Changes in the timing of snowmelt-derived streamflow from 1948 to 2002 were investigated in a network of 302 western North America gauges by examining the center of mass for flow, spring pulse onset dates, and seasonal fractional flows through trend and principal component analyses. Statistical analysis of the streamflow timing measures with Pacific climate indicators identified local and key large-scale processes that govern the regionally coherent parts of the changes and their relative importance.
Widespread and regionally coherent trends toward earlier onsets of springtime snowmelt and streamflow have taken place across most of western North America, affecting an area that is much larger than previously recognized. These timing changes have resulted in increasing fractions of annual flow occurring earlier in the water year by 1–4 weeks. The immediate (or proximal) forcings for the spatially coherent parts of the year-to-year fluctuations and longer-term trends of streamflow timing have been higher winter and spring temperatures. Although these temperature changes are partly controlled by the decadal-scale Pacific climate mode [Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO)], a separate and significant part of the variance is associated with a springtime warming trend that spans the PDO phases.
INTRODUCTION: Mountain snow fields act as natural reservoirs for many western water-supply systems, storing precipitation from the cool season, when most precipitation falls and forms snowpacks, until the warm season when most or all snowpacks melt and release water into rivers. As much as 75 percent of water supplies in the western United States are derived from snowmelt. Thus, water-resource management of western rivers commonly is planned around the knowledge that much of the runoff to reservoirs and lowlands occurs during the early parts of the warm season, when water demands for irrigation and other uses are at their greatest. During the cool season, water demands are low and, in West Coast states, the potential is high for winter storms to cause disastrous floods. Separation in time between the cool-season risks of flooding and the warm-season benefits of snowmelt runoff is a fundamental assumption of water-resource management strategies in the West.
Trends toward diminished snowpack and earlier snowmelt in western states may be related to global warming (Knowles and Cayan, 2002; Mote, 2003; Stewart and others, 2004) or to naturally occurring variability in winter and spring temperatures and in precipitation form or timing (Dettinger and Cayan, 1995; Cayan and others, 2001). These changes also affect streamflow timing (Dettinger and Cayan, 1995; Cayan and others, 2001). Trends toward earlier snowmelt and streamflow, whatever the causes, threaten finely tuned water-resource and flood-management systems and procedures in many western settings. Therefore recently observed trends toward earlier snowmelt and streamflow in western rivers measured by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are a source of considerable interest and concern to resource managers.
ABSTRACT: California's spring snowpack provides a critical water resource that may be greatly reduced by greenhouse warming. However, warming over the past half century has had little effect on total summer water discharge. The region's snowpack may therefore be less sensitive to temperature change than predicted by numerical models. In this study, 53 years of 1 April snow course measurements of snow-water equivalent (SWE) from the Sierra Nevada are used in a spatially distributed covariance model of SWE sensitivity to temperature and precipitation. This model is applied at a 2.5 arc min resolution using a multivariate parameter-surface interpolation scheme and Parameter-elevation Regressions on Independent Slopes (PRISM) climate grids. Total modeled SWE volume has a greater covariance to precipitation than to temperature. Increasing precipitation and temperature from 1950 to 2002 has led to an increase in SWE at high elevations and a loss at low elevations, resulting in little or no overall change in SWE volume. The covariance model predicts a 6–10% decrease in total SWE volume per °C. However, sensitivity is both highly dependent on concurrent change in precipitation and spatially variable, with the lower-elevation watersheds in the north being the most sensitive to warming. Overall, climate sensitivity is much less than that predicted by numerical models. This difference may result from inadequate treatment of elevation and precipitation in climate models.
ABSTRACT: The water resources of the western United States depend heavily on snowpack to store part of the wintertime precipitation into the drier summer months. A well-documented shift toward earlier runoff in recent decades has been attributed to 1) more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow and 2) earlier snowmelt. The present study addresses the former, documenting a regional trend toward smaller ratios of winter-total snowfall water equivalent (SFE) to winter-total precipitation (P) during the period 1949–2004.
The trends toward reduced SFE are a response to warming across the region, with the most significant reductions occurring where winter wet-day minimum temperatures, averaged over the study period, were warmer than -5°C. Most SFE reductions were associated with winter wet-day temperature increases between 0° and +3°C over the study period. Warmings larger than this occurred mainly at sites where the mean temperatures were cool enough that the precipitation form was less susceptible to warming trends.
The trends toward reduced SFE/P ratios were most pronounced in March regionwide and in January near the West Coast, corresponding to widespread warming in these months. While mean temperatures in March were sufficiently high to allow the warming trend to produce SFE/P declines across the study region, mean January temperatures were cooler, with the result that January SFE/P impacts were restricted to the lower elevations near the West Coast.
Extending the analysis back to 1920 shows that although the trends presented here may be partially attributable to interdecadal climate variability associated with the Pacific decadal oscillation, they also appear to result from still longer-term climate shifts.
ABSTRACT: Short-term climate and weather systems can have a strong influence on mountain snowmelt, sometimes overwhelming the effects of elevation and aspect. Although most years exhibit a spring onset that starts first at lowest and moves to highest elevations, in spring 2002, flow in a variety of streams within the Tuolumne and Merced River basins of the southern Sierra Nevada all rose synchronously on 29 March. Flow in streams draining small high-altitude glacial subcatchments rose at the same time as that draining much larger basins gauged at lower altitudes, and streams from north- and south-facing cirques rose and fell together. Historical analysis demonstrates that 2002 was one among only 8 yr with such synchronous flow onsets during the past 87 yr, recognized by having simultaneous onsets of snowmelt at over 70% of snow pillow sites, having discharge in over 70% of monitored streams increase simultaneously, and having temperatures increase over 12°C within a 5-day period. Synchronous springs tend to begin with a low pressure trough over California during late winter, followed by the onset of a strong ridge and unusually warm temperatures. Synchronous springs are characterized by warmer than average winters and cooler than average March temperatures in California. In the most elevation-dependent, nonsynchronous years, periods of little or no storm activity, with warmer than average March temperatures, precede the onset of spring snowmelt, allowing elevation and aspect to influence snowmelt as spring arrives gradually.
ABSTRACT: The objective of this study was to describe the spatial and temporal structure of spring snowpack anomalies in British Columbia, Canada, and to relate the anomaly patterns to climatic fluctuations. Cluster analysis was used to identify relatively homogeneous groups of snow course sites, based on the April 1 snowpack measurements, for the period 1966-1992. Time series of cluster-averaged anomalies were then computed. Synoptic-scale circulation types were defined by applying a correlation-based map classification technique to gridded data sets of surface pressure and 500-hPa height levels. Frequencies of the circulation types were calculated for each winter (November to March). Total precipitation and mean temperature for each winter were calculated from monthly data from 16 climate stations. Snowpack anomalies from 1966 to 1976 were dominated by two patterns: one characterized by generally heavier-than-average snowpacks over most of the province and the other by heavier-than-average snowpacks in the south and lighter-than-average in the north. From 1977 to 1992, snowpack conditions were generally either lighter than average over the whole province or were heavier than average in the north and lighter than average in the south. Snowpack and precipitation were generally correlated, although at some stations it appears that high winter temperatures, likely causing more midwinter melt and more rain, can act to reduce the snowpack. The differences in anomaly patterns and frequencies of synoptic types between the 1966-1976 and 1977-1992 periods accord with decadal-scale shifts in sea surface temperatures and atmospheric circulation patterns over the North Pacific, as reported in the literature. The shift in snowpack anomaly patterns following 1976 is consistent with reported shifts in glacier mass balance and rates of retreat and with streamflow fluctuations.
ABSTRACT: Records of 1 April snow water equivalent (SWE) are examined here using multiple linear regression against reference time series of temperature and precipitation. This method permits 1) an examination of the separate roles of temperature and precipitation in determining the trends in SWE; 2) an estimation of the sensitivity of SWE to warming trends, and its distribution across western North America and as a function of elevation; and 3) inferences about responses of SWE to future warming. These results emphasize the sensitivity to warming of the mountains of northern California and the Cascades of Oregon and Washington. In addition, the contribution of modes of Pacific climate variability is examined and found to be responsible for about 10%–60% of the trends in SWE, depending on the period of record and climate index.
ABSTRACT: Observations of snow water equivalent (SWE) in the Pacific Northwest are examined and compared with variability and trends in temperature and precipitation at nearby climate stations. At most locations, especially below about 1800 m, substantial declines in SWE coincide with significant increases in temperature, and occur in spite of increases in precipitation.
ABSTRACT: In western North America, snow provides crucial storage of winter precipitation, effectively transferring water from the relatively wet winter season to the typically dry summers. Manual and telemetered measurements of spring snow-pack, corroborated by a physically based hydrologic model, are examined here for climate-driven fluctuations and trends during the period of 1916–2002. Much of the mountain West has experienced declines in spring snowpack, especially since midcentury, despite increases in winter precipitation in many places. Analysis and modeling show that climatic trends are the dominant factor, not changes in land use, forest canopy, or other factors. The largest decreases have occurred where winter temperatures are mild, especially in the Cascade Mountains and northern California. In most mountain ranges, relative declines grow from minimal at ridgetop to substantial at snow line. Taken together, these results emphasize that the West's snow resources are already declining as earth's climate warms.
ABSTRACT: One of the most visible and widely felt impacts of climate warming is the change (mostly loss) of low-elevation snow cover in the midlatitudes. Snow cover that accumulates at temperatures close to the ice-water phase transition is at greater risk to climate warming than cold climate snowpacks because it affects both precipitation phase and ablation rates. This study maps areas in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States that are potentially at risk of converting from a snow-dominated to a rain-dominated winter precipitation regime, under a climate-warming scenario. A data-driven, climatological approach of snow cover classification is used to reveal these “at risk” snow zones and also to examine the relative frequency of warm winters for the region. For a rain versus snow temperature threshold of 0°C the at-risk snow class covers an area of about 9200 km2 in the Pacific Northwest region and represents approximately 6.5 km3 of water. Many areas of the Pacific Northwest would see an increase in the number of warm winters, but the impacts would likely be concentrated in the Cascade and Olympic Ranges. A number of lowe relevation ski areas could experience negative impacts because of the shift from winter snows to winter rains. The results of this study point to the potential for using existing datasets to better understand the potential impacts of climate warming.
Peterson, D.H., R.E. Smith, M.D. Dettinger, D.R. Cayan, L. Riddle (2000). An organized signal in snowmelt runoff over the western United States. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 36 (2): 421-432
ABSTRACT: Daily-to-weekly discharge during the snowmelt season is highly correlated among river basins in the upper elevations of the central and southern Sierra Nevada (Carson, Walker, Tuolumne, Merced, San Joaquin, Kings, and Kern Rivers). In many cases, the upper Sierra Nevada watershed operates in a single mode (with varying catchment amplitudes). In some years, with appropriate lags, this mode extends to distant mountains. A reason for this coherence is the broad scale nature of synoptic features in atmospheric circulation, which provide anomalous insolation and temperature forcings that span a large region, sometimes the entire western U.S. These correlations may fall off dramatically, however, in dry years when the snowpack is spatially patchy.
ABSTRACT: An important part of the water supply in the western United States is derived from runoff fed by mountain snowmelt. Snow accumulation responds to both precipitation and temperature variations, and forms an interesting climatic index, since it integrates these influences over the entire late fall-spring period. Here, effects of cool season climate variability upon snow water equivalent (SWE) over the western part of the conterminous United States are examined. The focus is on measurements on/around 1 April, when snow accumulation is typically greatest. The primary data, from a network of mountainous snow courses, provides a good description of interannual fluctuations in snow accumulations, since many snow courses have records of five decades or more. For any given year, the spring SWE anomaly at a particular snow course is likely to be 25%–60% of its long-term average. Five separate regions of anomalous SWE variability are distinguished, using a rotated principal components analysis. Although effects vary with region and with elevation, in general, the anomalous winter precipitation has the strongest influence on spring SWE fluctuations. Anomalous temperature has a weaker effect overall, but it has great influence in lower elevations such as in the coastal Northwest, and during spring in higher elevations. The regional snow anomaly patterns are associated with precipitation and temperature anomalies in winter and early spring. Patterns of the precipitation, temperature, and snow anomalies extend over broad regional areas, much larger than individual watersheds. These surface anomalies are organized by the atmospheric circulation, with primary anomaly centers over the North Pacific Ocean as well as over western North America. For most of the regions, anomalously low SWE is associated with a winter circulation resembling the PNA pattern. With a strong low in the central North Pacific and high pressure over the Pacific Northwest, this pattern diverts North Pacific storms northward, away from the region. Both warm and cool phases of El Niño-Southern Oscillation tend to produce regional patterns with out-of-phase SWE anomalies in the Northwest and the Southwest.
McCabe, G. J., M. D. Dettinger (2002). Primary modes and predictability of year-to-year snowpack variations in the western United States from teleconnections with Pacific Ocean climate. Journal of Hydrometeorology 3 (1): 13-25
ABSTRACT: Snowpack, as measured on 1 April, is the primary source of warm-season streamflow for most of the western United States and thus represents an important source of water supply. An understanding of climate factors that influence the variability of this water supply and thus its predictability is important for water resource management. In this study, principal component analysis is used to identify the primary modes of 1 April snowpack variability in the western United States. Two components account for 61% of the total snowpack variability in the western United States. Relations between these modes of variability and indices of Pacific Ocean climate [e.g., the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) and Niño-3 sea surface temperatures (SSTs)] are examined. The first mode of snowpack variability is closely associated with the PDO, whereas the second mode varies in concert with both the PDO and Niño-3 SSTs. Because these atmospheric–oceanic conditions change slowly from season to season, the observed teleconnections between the Pacific Ocean climate and 1 April snowpack may be useful to forecast 1 April snowpack using data that describe the Pacific Ocean climate in the previous summer and autumn seasons, especially for the northwestern United States.
ABSTRACT: Analyses of streamflow, snow mass temperature, and precipitation in snowmelt-dominated river basins in the western United States indicate an advance in the timing of peak spring season flows over the past 50 years. Warm temperature spells in spring have occurred much earlier in recent years, which explains in part the trend in the timing of the spring peak flow. In addition, a decrease in snow water equivalent and a general increase in winter precipitation are evident for many stations in the western United States. It appears that in recent decades more of the precipitation is coming as rain rather than snow. The trends are strongest at lower elevations and in the Pacific Northwest region, where winter temperatures are closer to the melting point; it appears that in this region in particular, modest shifts in temperature are capable of forcing large shifts in basin hydrologic response. It is speculated that these trends could be potentially a manifestation of the general global warming trend in recent decades and also due to enhanced ENSO activity. The observed trends in hydroclimatology over the western United States can have significant impacts on water resources planning and management.
ABSTRACT: Spring snowmelt is the most important contribution of many rivers in western North America. If climate changes, this contribution may change. A shift in the timing of springtime snowmelt towards earlier in the year already is observed during 1948–2000 in many western rivers. Streamflow timing changes for the 1995–2099 period are projected using regression relations between observed streamflow-timing responses in each river, measured by the temporal centroid of streamflow (CT) each year, and local temperature (TI) and precipitation (PI) indices. Under 21st century warming trends predicted by the Parallel Climate Model (PCM) under business-as-usual greenhouse-gas emissions, streamflow timing trends across much of western North America suggest even earlier springtime snowmelt than observed to date. Projected CT changes are consistent with observed rates and directions of change during the past five decades, and are strongest in the Pacific Northwest, Sierra Nevada, and Rocky Mountains, where many rivers eventually run 30–40 days earlier. The modest PI changes projected by PCM yield minimal CT changes. The responses of CT to the simultaneous effects of projected TI and PI trends are dominated by the TI changes. Regression-based CT projections agree with those from physically-based simulations of rivers in the Pacific Northwest and Sierra Nevada.
E. P. Maurer, I. T. Stewart, C. Bonfils, P. B. Duffy, D. Cayan (2007). Detection, attribution, and sensitivity of trends toward earlier streamflow in the Sierra Nevada. Journal of Geophysical Research 112: D11118
ABSTRACT: Observed changes in the timing of snowmelt dominated streamflow in the western United States are often linked to anthropogenic or other external causes. We assess whether observed streamflow timing changes can be statistically attributed to external forcing, or whether they still lie within the bounds of natural (internal) variability for four large Sierra Nevada (CA) basins, at inflow points to major reservoirs. Streamflow timing is measured by “center timing” (CT), the day when half the annual flow has passed a given point. We use a physically based hydrology model driven by meteorological input from a global climate model to quantify the natural variability in CT trends. Estimated 50-year trends in CT due to natural climate variability often exceed estimated actual CT trends from 1950 to 1999. Thus, although observed trends in CT to date may be statistically significant, they cannot yet be statistically attributed to external influences on climate. We estimate that projected CT changes at the four major reservoir inflows will, with 90% confidence, exceed those from natural variability within 1–4 decades or 4–8 decades, depending on rates of future greenhouse gas emissions. To identify areas most likely to exhibit CT changes in response to rising temperatures, we calculate changes in CT under temperature increases from 1 to 5°. We find that areas with average winter temperatures between -2°C and -4°C are most likely to respond with significant CT shifts. Correspondingly, elevations from 2000 to 2800 m are most sensitive to temperature increases, with CT changes exceeding 45 days (earlier) relative to 1961–1990.
ABSTRACT: All currently available climate models predict a near-surface warming trend under the influence of rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In addition to the direct effects on climate—for example, on the frequency of heatwaves—this increase in surface temperatures has important consequences for the hydrological cycle, particularly in regions where water supply is currently dominated by melting snow or ice. In a warmer world, less winter precipitation falls as snow and the melting of winter snow occurs earlier in spring. Even without any changes in precipitation intensity, both of these effects lead to a shift in peak river runoff to winter and early spring, away from summer and autumn when demand is highest. Where storage capacities are not sufficient, much of the winter runoff will immediately be lost to the oceans. With more than one-sixth of the Earth's population relying on glaciers and seasonal snow packs for their water supply, the consequences of these hydrological changes for future water availability—predicted with high confidence and already diagnosed in some regions—are likely to be severe.
Pierce, D. W., Barnett, T. P., Hidalgo, H. G., Das, T., Cayan, D. R., Bonfils, C., Santer, B. D., Bala, G., Mirin, A., Dettinger, M. D., Wood, A. W., Nozawa, T. (2008). Attribution of declining western U.S. snowpack to human effects. Journal of Climate 21 (23): 6425-6444
ABSTRACT: Observations show snowpack has declined across much of the western United States over the period 1950–99. This reduction has important social and economic implications, as water retained in the snowpack from winter storms forms an important part of the hydrological cycle and water supply in the region. A formal model-based detection and attribution (D–A) study of these reductions is performed. The detection variable is the ratio of 1 April snow water equivalent (SWE) to water-year-to-date precipitation (P), chosen to reduce the effect of P variability on the results. Estimates of natural internal climate variability are obtained from 1600 years of two control simulations performed with fully coupled ocean–atmosphere climate models. Estimates of the SWE/P response to anthropogenic greenhouse gases, ozone, and some aerosols are taken from multiple-member ensembles of perturbation experiments run with two models. The D–A shows the observations and anthropogenically forced models have greater SWE/P reductions than can be explained by natural internal climate variability alone. Model-estimated effects of changes in solar and volcanic forcing likewise do not explain the SWE/P reductions. The mean model estimate is that about half of the SWE/P reductions observed in the west from 1950 to 1999 are the result of climate changes forced by anthropogenic greenhouse gases, ozone, and aerosols.
ABSTRACT: Mountain snowpack and spring runoff are key components of surface water resources, and serve as important, regionally integrated indicators of climate variability and change. This study examines whether mountain snowpack and snowmelt have manifested a consistent hydrologic response to global climatic changes over the past several decades. Prior findings are compared to identify spatial and temporal patterns of trends in the volume, extent, and seasonality of snowpack and melt for key mountain regions. Evidence suggests that both temperature and precipitation increases to date have impacted mountain snowpacks simultaneously on the global scale; however, the nature of the impact is, among other factors, strongly dependent on geographic location, latitude, and elevation. Warmer temperatures at mid-elevations have decreased snowpack and resulted in earlier melt in spite of precipitation increases, while they have not affected high-elevation regions that remain well below freezing during winter. At high elevations, precipitation increases have resulted in increased snowpack. Not all local responses are consistent with the general findings, possibly because of local climatic trends, atmospheric circulation patterns, record lengths, or data quality issues. With continued warming, increasingly higher elevations are projected to experience declines in snowpack accumulation and melt that can no longer be offset by winter precipitation increases. There is a continued research need for hydroclimatic trend detection and attribution in mountains owing to the length, quality, and sparseness of available data from monitoring stations not directly impacted by human activity.