DECLINING MOUNTAIN SNOWPACK IN WESTERN NORTH AMERICA*

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In western North America, snow provides crucial storage of winter precipitation, effectively transferring water from the relatively wet winter season to the typically dry summers. Manual and telemetered measurements of spring snowpack, corroborated by a physically based hydrologic model, are examined here for climate-driven fluctuations and trends during the period of 1916–2002. Much of the mountain West has experienced declines in spring snowpack, especially since midcentury, despite increases in winter precipitation in many places. Analysis and modeling show that climatic trends are the dominant factor, not changes in land use, forest canopy, or other factors. The largest decreases have occurred where winter temperatures are mild, especially in the Cascade Mountains and northern California. In most mountain ranges, relative declines grow from minimal at ridgetop to substantial at snow line. Taken together, these results emphasize that the West's snow resources are already declining as earth's climate warms.

Climate Impacts Group, Center for Science in the Earth System, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Climate Impacts Group, Center for Science in the Earth System, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Colorado/CIRES, Boulder, Colorado

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Climate Impacts Group, Center for Science in the Earth System, Seattle, Washington

*Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and the Ocean Contribution Number 1073

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Philip W. Mote, Climate Impacts Group, Center for Science in the Earth System, Box 354235, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, E-mail: philip@atmos.washington.edu

In western North America, snow provides crucial storage of winter precipitation, effectively transferring water from the relatively wet winter season to the typically dry summers. Manual and telemetered measurements of spring snowpack, corroborated by a physically based hydrologic model, are examined here for climate-driven fluctuations and trends during the period of 1916–2002. Much of the mountain West has experienced declines in spring snowpack, especially since midcentury, despite increases in winter precipitation in many places. Analysis and modeling show that climatic trends are the dominant factor, not changes in land use, forest canopy, or other factors. The largest decreases have occurred where winter temperatures are mild, especially in the Cascade Mountains and northern California. In most mountain ranges, relative declines grow from minimal at ridgetop to substantial at snow line. Taken together, these results emphasize that the West's snow resources are already declining as earth's climate warms.

Climate Impacts Group, Center for Science in the Earth System, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Climate Impacts Group, Center for Science in the Earth System, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Colorado/CIRES, Boulder, Colorado

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Climate Impacts Group, Center for Science in the Earth System, Seattle, Washington

*Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and the Ocean Contribution Number 1073

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Philip W. Mote, Climate Impacts Group, Center for Science in the Earth System, Box 354235, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, E-mail: philip@atmos.washington.edu
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