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David E. Rupp, Philip W. Mote, Nathaniel L. Bindoff, Peter A. Stott, and David A. Robinson

Abstract

Significant declines in spring Northern Hemisphere (NH) snow cover extent (SCE) have been observed over the last five decades. As one step toward understanding the causes of this decline, an optimal fingerprinting technique is used to look for consistency in the temporal pattern of spring NH SCE between observations and simulations from 15 global climate models (GCMs) that form part of phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project. The authors examined simulations from 15 GCMs that included both natural and anthropogenic forcing and simulations from 7 GCMs that included only natural forcing. The decline in observed NH SCE could be largely explained by the combined natural and anthropogenic forcing but not by natural forcing alone. However, the 15 GCMs, taken as a whole, underpredicted the combined forcing response by a factor of 2. How much of this underprediction was due to underrepresentation of the sensitivity to external forcing of the GCMs or to their underrepresentation of internal variability has yet to be determined.

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