IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis Snowpack, Snowmelt and River Flow

The ensemble mean of the MMD models projects a general decrease in snow depth (Chapter 10) as a result of delayed autumn snowfall and earlier spring snowmelt. In some regions where winter precipitation is projected to increase, the increased snowfall can more than make up for the shorter snow season and yield increased snow accumulation. Snow depth increases are projected by some GCMs over some land around the Arctic Ocean (Figure S10.1) and by some RCMs in the northernmost part of the Northwest Territories (Figure 11.13). In principle a similar situation could arise at lower latitudes at high elevations in the Rocky Mountains, although most models project a widespread decrease of snow depth there (Kim et al., 2002; Snyder et al., 2003; Leung et al., 2004; see also Box 11.3).

Much SD research activity has focused on resolving future water resources in the complex terrain of the western USA. Studies typically point to a decline in winter snowpack and hastening of the onset of snowmelt caused by regional warming (Hayhoe et al., 2004; Salathé, 2005). Comparable trends towards increased annual mean river flows and earlier spring peak flows have also been projected by two SD techniques for the Saguenay watershed in northern Québec, Canada (Dibike and Coulibaly, 2005). Such changes in the flow regime also favour increased risk of winter flooding and lower summer soil moisture and river flows. However, differences in snowpack behaviour derived from AOGCMs depend critically on the realism of downscaled winter temperature variability and its interplay with precipitation and snowpack accumulation and melt (Salathé, 2005). Hayhoe et al. (2004) produced a standard set of statistically downscaled temperature and precipitation scenarios for California; under both the A1F1 and B1 scenarios, they find overall declines in snowpack.

Figure 11.13

Figure 11.13. Percent snow depth changes in March (only calculated where climatological snow amounts exceed 5 mm of water equivalent), as projected by the Canadian Regional Climate Model (CRCM; Plummer et al., 2006), driven by the Canadian General Circulation Model (CGCM), for 2041 to 2070 under SRES A2 compared to 1961 to 1990.