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Title: Humidity determines snowpack ablation under a warming climate

Abstract

Climate change is altering historical patterns of snow accumulation and melt, threatening societal frameworks for water supply. However, decreases in spring snow water equivalent (SWE) and changes in snowmelt are not ubiquitous despite widespread warming in the western United States, highlighting the importance of latent and radiant energy fluxes in snow ablation. Here we demonstrate how atmospheric humidity and solar radiation interact with warming temperature to control snowpack ablation at 462 sites spanning a gradient in mean winter temperature from −8.9 to +2.9 °C. The most widespread response to warming was an increase in episodic, midwinter ablation events. Under humid conditions these ablation events were dominated by melt, averaging 21% (202 mm/year) of SWE. Winter ablation under dry atmospheric conditions at similar temperatures was smaller, averaging 12% (58 mm/year) of SWE and likely dominated by sublimation fluxes. These contrasting patterns result from the critical role that atmospheric humidity plays in local energy balance, with latent and longwave radiant fluxes cooling the snowpack under dry conditions and warming it under humid conditions. Similarly, spring melt rates were faster under humid conditions, yet the second most common trend was a reduction in spring melt rates associated with earlier initiation when solar radiationmore » inputs are smaller. Our analyses demonstrate that regional differences in atmospheric humidity are a major cause of the spatial variability in snowpack response to warming. Better constraints on humidity will be critical to predicting both the amount and timing of surface water supplies under climate change.« less

Authors:
ORCiD logo;
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, CO (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), Biological and Environmental Research (BER); National Science Foundation (NSF)
OSTI Identifier:
1417722
Alternate Identifier(s):
OSTI ID: 1547347
Grant/Contract Number:  
SC0006968; EAR-0724960; OIA-1208732; EAR-1331408
Resource Type:
Published Article
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Name: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Journal Volume: 115 Journal Issue: 6; Journal ID: ISSN 0027-8424
Publisher:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; snow; climate; water resources; hydrology; humidity

Citation Formats

Harpold, Adrian A., and Brooks, Paul D. Humidity determines snowpack ablation under a warming climate. United States: N. p., 2018. Web. doi:10.1073/pnas.1716789115.
Harpold, Adrian A., & Brooks, Paul D. Humidity determines snowpack ablation under a warming climate. United States. doi:10.1073/pnas.1716789115.
Harpold, Adrian A., and Brooks, Paul D. Mon . "Humidity determines snowpack ablation under a warming climate". United States. doi:10.1073/pnas.1716789115.
@article{osti_1417722,
title = {Humidity determines snowpack ablation under a warming climate},
author = {Harpold, Adrian A. and Brooks, Paul D.},
abstractNote = {Climate change is altering historical patterns of snow accumulation and melt, threatening societal frameworks for water supply. However, decreases in spring snow water equivalent (SWE) and changes in snowmelt are not ubiquitous despite widespread warming in the western United States, highlighting the importance of latent and radiant energy fluxes in snow ablation. Here we demonstrate how atmospheric humidity and solar radiation interact with warming temperature to control snowpack ablation at 462 sites spanning a gradient in mean winter temperature from −8.9 to +2.9 °C. The most widespread response to warming was an increase in episodic, midwinter ablation events. Under humid conditions these ablation events were dominated by melt, averaging 21% (202 mm/year) of SWE. Winter ablation under dry atmospheric conditions at similar temperatures was smaller, averaging 12% (58 mm/year) of SWE and likely dominated by sublimation fluxes. These contrasting patterns result from the critical role that atmospheric humidity plays in local energy balance, with latent and longwave radiant fluxes cooling the snowpack under dry conditions and warming it under humid conditions. Similarly, spring melt rates were faster under humid conditions, yet the second most common trend was a reduction in spring melt rates associated with earlier initiation when solar radiation inputs are smaller. Our analyses demonstrate that regional differences in atmospheric humidity are a major cause of the spatial variability in snowpack response to warming. Better constraints on humidity will be critical to predicting both the amount and timing of surface water supplies under climate change.},
doi = {10.1073/pnas.1716789115},
journal = {Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America},
number = 6,
volume = 115,
place = {United States},
year = {2018},
month = {1}
}

Journal Article:
Free Publicly Available Full Text
Publisher's Version of Record
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1716789115

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Cited by: 8 works
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