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The Atmospheric Response to Projected Terrestrial Snow Changes in the Late Twenty-First Century

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  • 1 NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory,* Boulder, Colorado
  • | 2 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

Two atmospheric general circulation model experiments are conducted with specified terrestrial snow conditions representative of 1980–99 and 2080–99. The snow states are obtained from twentieth-century and twenty-first-century coupled climate model integrations under increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. Sea surface temperatures, sea ice, and greenhouse gas concentrations are set to 1980–99 values in both atmospheric model experiments to isolate the effect of the snow changes. The reduction in snow cover in the twenty-first century relative to the twentieth century increases the solar radiation absorbed by the surface, and it enhances the upward longwave radiation and latent and sensible fluxes that warm the overlying atmosphere. The maximum twenty-first-century minus twentieth-century surface air temperature (SAT) differences are relatively small (<3°C) compared with those due to Arctic sea ice changes (∼10°C). However, they are continental in scale and are largest in fall and spring, when they make a significant contribution to the overall warming over Eurasia and North America in the twenty-first century. The circulation response to the snow changes, while of modest amplitude, involves multiple components, including a local low-level trough, remote Rossby wave trains, an annular pattern that is strongest in the stratosphere, and a hemispheric increase in geopotential height.

Corresponding author address: Michael Alexander, NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory, R/PSD1, 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80305. Email: michael.alexander@noaa.gov

Abstract

Two atmospheric general circulation model experiments are conducted with specified terrestrial snow conditions representative of 1980–99 and 2080–99. The snow states are obtained from twentieth-century and twenty-first-century coupled climate model integrations under increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. Sea surface temperatures, sea ice, and greenhouse gas concentrations are set to 1980–99 values in both atmospheric model experiments to isolate the effect of the snow changes. The reduction in snow cover in the twenty-first century relative to the twentieth century increases the solar radiation absorbed by the surface, and it enhances the upward longwave radiation and latent and sensible fluxes that warm the overlying atmosphere. The maximum twenty-first-century minus twentieth-century surface air temperature (SAT) differences are relatively small (<3°C) compared with those due to Arctic sea ice changes (∼10°C). However, they are continental in scale and are largest in fall and spring, when they make a significant contribution to the overall warming over Eurasia and North America in the twenty-first century. The circulation response to the snow changes, while of modest amplitude, involves multiple components, including a local low-level trough, remote Rossby wave trains, an annular pattern that is strongest in the stratosphere, and a hemispheric increase in geopotential height.

Corresponding author address: Michael Alexander, NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory, R/PSD1, 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80305. Email: michael.alexander@noaa.gov

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