Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss., 9, 13037-13081, 2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed
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This discussion paper has been under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS). Please refer to the corresponding final paper in HESS.
Climate change impacts on maritime mountain snowpack in the Oregon Cascades
E. Sproles1,*, A. Nolin1, K. Rittger2, and T. Painter2
1College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, 104 CEOAS Administration Building, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, 97331-5503, USA
2Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, 4800 Oak Grove Dr, Pasadena, CA, 91109, USA
*currently at: National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, US Environmental Protection Agency, Corvallis, OR, USA

Abstract. Globally maritime snow comprises 10% of seasonal snow and is considered highly sensitive to changes in temperature. This study investigates the effect of climate change on maritime mountain snowpack in the McKenzie River Basin (MRB) in the Cascades Mountains of Oregon, USA. Melt water from the MRB's snowpack provides critical water supply for agriculture, ecosystems, and municipalities throughout the region especially in summer when water demand is high. Because maritime snow commonly falls at temperatures close to 0 °C, accumulation of snow versus rainfall is highly sensitive to temperature increases. Analyses of current climate and projected climate change impacts show rising temperatures in the region. To better understand the sensitivity of snow accumulation to increased temperatures, we modeled the spatial distribution of snow water equivalent (SWE) in the MRB for the period of 1989–2009 with the SnowModel spatially distributed model. Simulations were evaluated using point-based measurements of SWE, precipitation, and temperature that showed Nash-Sutcliffe Efficiency coefficients of 0.83, 0.97, and 0.80, respectively. Spatial accuracy was shown to be 82% using snow cover extent from the Landsat Thematic Mapper. The validated model was used to evaluate the sensitivity of snowpack to projected temperature increases and variability in precipitation, and how changes were expressed in the spatial and temporal distribution of SWE. Results show that a 2 °C increase in temperature would shift peak snowpack 12 days earlier and decrease basin-wide volumetric snow water storage by 56%. Snowpack between the elevations of 1000 and 1800 m is the most sensitive to increases in temperature. Upper elevations were also affected, but to a lesser degree. Temperature increases are the primary driver of diminished snowpack accumulation, however variability in precipitation produce discernible changes in the timing and volumetric storage of snowpack. This regional scale study serves as a case study, providing a modeling framework to better understand the impacts of climate change in similar maritime regions of the world.

Citation: Sproles, E., Nolin, A., Rittger, K., and Painter, T.: Climate change impacts on maritime mountain snowpack in the Oregon Cascades, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss., 9, 13037-13081, doi:10.5194/hessd-9-13037-2012, 2012.
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