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Mark C. Mastin, Katherine J. Chase, and R. W. Dudley

Abstract

Spring snowpack is an important water resource in many river basins in the United States in areas where snowmelt comprises a large part of the annual runoff. Increasing temperatures will likely reduce snowpacks in the future, resulting in more winter runoff and less available water during the summer low-flow season. As part of the National Climate Change Modeling Project by the U.S. Geological Survey, distributed watershed-model output was analyzed to characterize areal extent and water-equivalent volumes of spring snowpack for a warming climate. The output from seven selected watershed models from the mountainous western United States and one model from coastal Maine in the northeastern United States shows a future of declining spring snowpack. Snow-cover area (SCA) and snow-water equivalent (SWE) were used to compare the spring snowpack for current conditions (2006) with three time periods in the future (2030, 2060, and 2090) using three Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emission scenarios published in the 2007 Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES): A2, B1, and A1B. Distributed SWE and SCA values were sorted into elevation zones in each basin. The change in spring snowpack over time was greater than the change among different emission scenarios, suggesting that, even for a globally reduced carbon emission scenario, large decreases in SWE are likely to occur. The SRES A2 scenario resulted in the greatest decrease in SWE for six of the basins, and the SRES B1 and A1B scenarios resulted in the greatest decrease in one basin each.

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