Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling

Projecting 21st Century Snowpack Trends in the Western United States using Variable-Resolution CESM

Friday, December 18, 2015 - 15:10 to 15:25
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The western USA is integrally reliant upon winter season snowpack, which supplies 3/4 of the region’s fresh water and buffers against seasonal aridity on agricultural, ecosystem, and urban water demands. By the end of the 21st century, western USA snowpack (SWE) could decline by 40-70%, snowfall by 25-40%, more winter storms could tend towards rain rather than snow, and the peak timing of snowmelt will shift several weeks earlier in the season. Further, there has been evidence that mountain ranges could face more accelerated warming (elevational dependent warming) due to climate change. These future trends have largely been derived from global climate models (CMIP5) which can’t resolve some of the more relatively narrow mountain ranges, like the California Sierra Nevada, in great detail. Therefore, due to the importance of orographic uplift on weather fronts, eastern Pacific sea-surface temperature anomalies, atmospheric river events, and mesoscale convective systems, high-resolution global scale modeling techniques are necessary to properly resolve western USA mountain range climatology. Variable-resolution global climate models (VRGCMs) are a promising next-generation technique to analyze both past and future hydroclimatic trends in the region. VRGCMs serve as a bridge between regional and global models by allowing for high-resolution in areas of interest, eliminate lateral boundary forcings (and resultant model biases), allow for more dynamically inclusive large-scale climate teleconnections, and require smaller simulation times and lower data storage demand (compared to conventional global models). This presentation focuses on validating these next-generation models as well as projecting future climate change scenario impacts on several of the western USA's key hydroclimate metrics (e.g., two-meter surface temperature, snow cover, snow water equivalent, and snowfall) to inform water managers and policy makers and offer resilience to climate change impacts facing the region.

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