Publications

Declining mountain snowpack in western North America

Citation

Mote, P.W., Hamlet, A.F., Clark, M., Lettenmaier, D.P. 2005. Declining mountain snowpack in western North America. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 86(1):39-49.


Abstract

In western North America, snow provides crucial storage of winter precipitation, effectively transferring water from the relatively wet winter season to the typically dry summers. Manual and telemetered measurements of spring snowpack, corroborated by a physically-based hydrologic model, are examined here for climate-driven fluctuations and trends during the period 1916-2002.

Much of the mountain West has experienced declines in spring snowpack, especially since mid-century, and despite increases in winter precipitation in many places. Analysis and modeling shows that climatic trends are the dominant factor, not changes in land use, forest canopy, or other factors. The largest decreases have occurred where winter temperatures are mild, especially in the Cascade Mountains and Northern California. In most mountain ranges, results emphasize that the West’s snow resources are already declining as Earth’s climate warms.