Abstract

Warming temperatures across southeast Alaska are affecting the region’s energy and transportation sectors, marine ecosystems, and forest health. More frequent above-freezing temperatures lead a transition from snow- to rain-dominant precipitation regimes, accelerating glacial mass balance loss and a leading to a greater risk for warm-season drought. Southeast Alaska has steep topographical gradients, which necessitate the use of downscaled climate information to study historical and projected periods. This study used regional dynamical downscaling at 4-km spatial resolution with the Weather Research and Forecasting Model to assess historical (1981–2010) and projected (2031–60) climate states for southeast Alaska. These simulations were driven by one reanalysis (i.e., the Climate Forecast System Reanalysis) and two climate models (i.e., the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Climate Model, version 3, and the NCAR Community Climate System Model, version 4), which each included a historical simulation and a projected simulation. The future simulations used the representative concentration pathway 8.5 emissions scenario. Bias-corrected projections (2031–60 minus 1981–2010) indicated seasonal warming of 1°–3°C, increased precipitation during autumn (4%–12%) and winter (7%–12%), and decreased snowfall in all seasons (up to 60% in autumn). The average number of days annually with a minimum temperature below freezing dropped by more than 30. The average annual maximum consecutive 3-day precipitation amounts increased by 11%–16%, but analogous extreme snowfall amounts dropped by 5%–11%. The most substantial snow losses occurred at low-elevation and coastal locations; at many high elevations (e.g., above 1000 m), extreme snowfall amounts increased.

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