Asymmetric emergence of low-to-no snow in the midlatitudes of the American Cordillera

Alan M. Rhoades, Benjamin J. Hatchett, Mark D. Risser, William D. Collins, Nicolas E. Bambach, Laurie S. Huning, Rachel McCrary, Erica R. Siirila-Woodburn, Paul A. Ullrich, Michael F. Wehner, Colin M. Zarzycki & Andrew D. Jones


Department of Energy, Office of Science, Earth & Environmental Systems Modeling Progam Acknowledged Support: Yes, Multisector Dynamics, and Regional and Global Modeling Analysis Programs


Societies and ecosystems within and downstream of mountains rely on seasonal snowmelt to satisfy their water demands. Anthropogenic climate change has reduced mountain snowpacks worldwide, altering snowmelt magnitude and timing. Here the global warming level leading to widespread and persistent mountain snowpack decline, termed low-to-no snow, is estimated for the world’s most latitudinally contiguous mountain range, the American Cordillera. We show that a combination of dynamical, thermodynamical and hypsometric factors results in an asymmetric emergence of low-to-no-snow conditions within the midlatitudes of the American Cordillera. Low-to-no-snow emergence occurs approximately 20 years earlier in the southern hemisphere, at a third of the local warming level, and coincides with runoff efficiency declines (8% average) in both dry and wet years. The prevention of a low-to-no-snow future in either hemisphere requires the level of global warming to be held to, at most, +2.5 °C.

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