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Publication Date
1 December 2019

A Quantitative Method to Decompose SWE Differences Between Regional Climate Models and Reanalysis Datasets

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Snow resources, such as in California’s Sierra Nevada, are critical for water supply and flood management. New research from the DOE-funded Hyperion project identifies how regional climate models must be improved to better predict the dynamics of snow in mountainous regions.

We developed a method to identify which processes in regional climate models are responsible for errors in the simulation of peak snow accumulation in mountainous regions.


The dynamics of snow accumulation and melt in mountainous regions is critical for water resource management.  Accurately predicting these dynamics requires models that can simulate the underlying processes and produce the right answers for the right reasons.  Our method identifies which processes must be improved in models to more accurately simulate snow dynamics.  


The simulation of snow water equivalent (SWE) remains difficult for regional climate models. Accurate SWE simulation depends on complex interacting climate processes such as the intensity and distribution of precipitation, rain-snow partitioning, and radiative fluxes. To identify the driving forces behind SWE difference between model and reanalysis datasets, and guide model improvement, we design a framework to quantitatively decompose the SWE difference contributed from precipitation distribution and magnitude, ablation, temperature, and topography biases in regional climate models. We apply this framework within the California Sierra Nevada to four regional climate models from the North American Coordinated Regional Downscaling Experiment (NA-CORDEX) run at three spatial resolutions. Models generally predict less SWE compared to Landsat-Era Sierra Nevada Snow Reanalysis (SNSR) dataset. Unresolved topography associated with model resolution contributes to dry and warm biases in models. Refining resolution from 0.44° to 0.11° improves SWE simulation by 35%. To varying degrees across models, the additional difference arises from the spatial and elevational distribution of precipitation, cold biases revealed by topographic correction, uncertainties in the rain-snow partitioning threshold, and high ablation biases. This work reveals both positive and negative contributions to snow bias in climate models and provides guidance for future model development to enhance SWE simulation. 

Point of Contact
Andrew D. Jones
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Funding Program Area(s)