In a new study, scientists revealed the impact of human-induced warming on snowpack across the Northern Hemisphere from 1981 to 2020. With funding from the Climate Program Office’s Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) Program and National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), doctoral student Alexander Gottlieb and supported scientist Justin Mankin of Dartmouth College combine climate observations and models to assess past snow trends and future possibilities. MAPP and NIDIS supported this project and others to work toward capturing the array of complex interactions that may intervene in U.S. droughts, with the ultimate goal of better characterizing and predicting droughts to help stakeholders and resource managers.
Snowpack, which persists in mountainous areas until warmer weather arrives, is a crucial indicator of climate change. Warmer winters could cause earlier melting, reducing snow water storage and posing risks to people and ecosystems. The study uncovers a complex relationship: while winters are warming globally, snowpack response has been inconsistent. Significant uncertainty and variability in measuring snowpack and climate trends have made it difficult to pinpoint where and how much human-driven climate change has altered snowpack. These results, published in Nature, resolve some of these uncertainties and confidently attribute changes in snowpack to human-induced warming. The authors also demonstrate that we are approaching a “tipping-point” in warming, beyond which snowpack loss will increase more homogeneously. The results underscore the historical and future effects of climate change on snow water storage, emphasizing the need for strategies to address water security risks in the face of accelerating snow loss.
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