Polar regions to see more snow; reductions expected most other areas
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — A new climate model suggests snowfall is likely to decline by up to 30 percent in the Colorado mountains, and by up to 50 to 80 percent in other regions of the country.
Most of the globe will see significant reductions in snowfall if atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide continue to increase. Only the polar regions and a few isolated mountain areas are likely to see more snow, according to scientists with the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and Princeton University who analyzed the data.
Carbon dioxide has already increased by 40 percent from mid-19th century levels. At the current rate of emissions, those levels are likely to double before the end of the 21st century.
Up to know, many models have struggled to consistently predict global warming impacts to snowfall trends in mountain areas. It’s clear that snowfall will decrease in marginal areas because it will simply be too warm to snow much of the time.
The new modeling tool incorporates more site-specific and detailed information, especially with regard to topography — a key factor that drives snowfall at the local and regional level. With that information, researchers have a high-definition model of the climate instead of a grainy, wide-angle view.
The new projections could help inform planners and decision-makers in mountain communities dependent on ski-related tourism, as well as resource managers trying to ensure long-term water supplies.
Based on the new projections, the northeast coast, western mountains and the Pacific Northwest will see the biggest drop in snowfall. Some areas, including the East Coast from Virginia to Maine, are likely to see their seasonal snow totals cut in half. The continental interior experiences fewer reductions in snowfall. The only part of the U.S. where snowfall will increase is Alaska.
The first model runs focused on mean annual snow variables, but the formula may also help understand coming changes in extreme snowfall events, as well as the frequency of snow storms and changes in seasonality.
The study was conducted by Sarah Kapnick, a postdoctoral research scientist in the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at Princeton University and jointly affiliated with NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, and Thomas Delworth, senior physical scientist at GFDL.