A New Look at Snowpack Trends in the Cascade Mountains

Mark T. Stoelinga Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

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Mark D. Albright Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

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Clifford F. Mass Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

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Abstract

This study examines the changes in Cascade Mountain spring snowpack since 1930. Three new time series facilitate this analysis: a water-balance estimate of Cascade snowpack from 1930 to 2007 that extends the observational record 20 years earlier than standard snowpack measurements; a radiosonde-based time series of lower-tropospheric temperature during onshore flow, to which Cascade snowpack is well correlated; and a new index of the North Pacific sea level pressure pattern that encapsulates modes of variability to which Cascade spring snowpack is particularly sensitive.

Cascade spring snowpack declined 23% during 1930–2007. This loss is nearly statistically significant at the 5% level. The snowpack increased 19% during the recent period of most rapid global warming (1976–2007), though this change is not statistically significant because of large annual variability. From 1950 to 1997, a large and statistically significant decline of 48% occurred. However, 80% of this decline is connected to changes in the circulation patterns over the North Pacific Ocean that vary naturally on annual to interdecadal time scales. The residual time series of Cascade snowpack after Pacific variability is removed displays a relatively steady loss rate of 2.0% decade−1, yielding a loss of 16% from 1930 to 2007. This loss is very nearly statistically significant and includes the possible impacts of anthropogenic global warming.

The dates of maximum snowpack and 90% melt out have shifted 5 days earlier since 1930. Both shifts are statistically insignificant. A new estimate of the sensitivity of Cascade spring snowpack to temperature of −11% per °C, when combined with climate model projections of 850-hPa temperatures offshore of the Pacific Northwest, yields a projected 9% loss of Cascade spring snowpack due to anthropogenic global warming between 1985 and 2025.

Corresponding author address: Mark T. Stoelinga, University of Washington, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98115. Email: stoeling@washington.edu

Abstract

This study examines the changes in Cascade Mountain spring snowpack since 1930. Three new time series facilitate this analysis: a water-balance estimate of Cascade snowpack from 1930 to 2007 that extends the observational record 20 years earlier than standard snowpack measurements; a radiosonde-based time series of lower-tropospheric temperature during onshore flow, to which Cascade snowpack is well correlated; and a new index of the North Pacific sea level pressure pattern that encapsulates modes of variability to which Cascade spring snowpack is particularly sensitive.

Cascade spring snowpack declined 23% during 1930–2007. This loss is nearly statistically significant at the 5% level. The snowpack increased 19% during the recent period of most rapid global warming (1976–2007), though this change is not statistically significant because of large annual variability. From 1950 to 1997, a large and statistically significant decline of 48% occurred. However, 80% of this decline is connected to changes in the circulation patterns over the North Pacific Ocean that vary naturally on annual to interdecadal time scales. The residual time series of Cascade snowpack after Pacific variability is removed displays a relatively steady loss rate of 2.0% decade−1, yielding a loss of 16% from 1930 to 2007. This loss is very nearly statistically significant and includes the possible impacts of anthropogenic global warming.

The dates of maximum snowpack and 90% melt out have shifted 5 days earlier since 1930. Both shifts are statistically insignificant. A new estimate of the sensitivity of Cascade spring snowpack to temperature of −11% per °C, when combined with climate model projections of 850-hPa temperatures offshore of the Pacific Northwest, yields a projected 9% loss of Cascade spring snowpack due to anthropogenic global warming between 1985 and 2025.

Corresponding author address: Mark T. Stoelinga, University of Washington, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98115. Email: stoeling@washington.edu

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