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Volume 11, issue 1 | Copyright
The Cryosphere, 11, 517-529, 2017
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 16 Feb 2017

Research article | 16 Feb 2017

How much can we save? Impact of different emission scenarios on future snow cover in the Alps

Christoph Marty1, Sebastian Schlögl1,2, Mathias Bavay1, and Michael Lehning1,2 Christoph Marty et al.
  • 1WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, 7260 Davos, Switzerland
  • 2École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

Abstract. This study focuses on an assessment of the future snow depth for two larger Alpine catchments. Automatic weather station data from two diverse regions in the Swiss Alps have been used as input for the Alpine3D surface process model to compute the snow cover at a 200m horizontal resolution for the reference period (1999–2012). Future temperature and precipitation changes have been computed from 20 downscaled GCM-RCM chains for three different emission scenarios, including one intervention scenario (2°C target) and for three future time periods (2020–2049, 2045–2074, 2070–2099). By applying simple daily change values to measured time series of temperature and precipitation, small-scale climate scenarios have been calculated for the median estimate and extreme changes. The projections reveal a decrease in snow depth for all elevations, time periods and emission scenarios. The non-intervention scenarios demonstrate a decrease of about 50% even for elevations above 3000m. The most affected elevation zone for climate change is located below 1200m, where the simulations show almost no snow towards the end of the century. Depending on the emission scenario and elevation zone the winter season starts half a month to 1 month later and ends 1 to 3 months earlier in this last scenario period. The resulting snow cover changes may be roughly equivalent to an elevation shift of 500–800 or 700–1000m for the two non-intervention emission scenarios. At the end of the century the number of snow days may be more than halved at an elevation of around 1500m and only 0–2 snow days are predicted in the lowlands. The results for the intervention scenario reveal no differences for the first scenario period but clearly demonstrate a stabilization thereafter, comprising much lower snow cover reductions towards the end of the century (ca. 30% instead of 70%).

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Short summary
We simulate the future snow cover in the Alps with the help of a snow model, which is fed by projected temperature and precipitation changes from a large set of climate models. The results demonstrate that snow below 1000 m is probably a rare guest at the end of the century. Moreover, even above 3000 m the simulations show a drastic decrease in snow depth. However, the results reveal that the projected snow cover reduction can be mitigated by 50 % if we manage to keep global warming below 2°.
We simulate the future snow cover in the Alps with the help of a snow model, which is fed by...