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Past changes and future trends of the Alpine snow pack

English title Past changes and future trends of the Alpine snow pack
Applicant Marty Christoph
Number 132200
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution WSL - Institut für Schnee- und Lawinenforschung SLF
Institution of higher education Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research - WSL
Main discipline Climatology. Atmospherical Chemistry, Aeronomy
Start/End 01.03.2011 - 31.08.2014
Approved amount 180'067.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Climatology. Atmospherical Chemistry, Aeronomy
Hydrology, Limnology, Glaciology

Keywords (9)

snow cover; climate change; winter tourism; snow water equivalent; snow hydrology; snow climatology; extreme value analysis; trend analysis; snow avalanches

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
The inter-annual variability of the snow depth in alpine country like Switzerland is high. On the one hand, we experienced the impact of snow scarcity during the warm and dry early 1990's and again in winter 2006/2007. On the other hand, the snowy winters 1998/1999 and 2008/2009 reminded us that snow still bears considerable hazards such as heavy loads on infrastructure, traffic closures, spring flooding and avalanches. Both situations led to widespread discussions about the impact of climate change on snow and its high relevance for an Alpine country like Switzerland. The objective of the proposed research project is therefore to constitute the first comprehensive study of snow depth and snow water equivalent for Switzerland which will analyse the full record up to now. Moreover, our goal is to obtain future snowpack scenarios resolving the different regions using a state of the art snow-cover model with input from the newest regional climate models (RCMs). The study consists of two parts, which together will provide new insights on past and future changes of the Swiss snowpack. Newly digitized and existing data will be joined and analyzed for trends and shifts in mean, extremes and variability. A special focus will be given to the spatial extreme value analysis of the different parameters and whether snow water equivalent records show similar signatures of climate-related variability, as is the case with snow depth records.In the second part today's average snow cover will be assessed based on simulations using the snow-cover model SNOWPACK for a set of sites that feature both meteorological model input data and snow data for validation. Hence, all model results can be verified and accuracies can be quantified. In a second step meteorological data representative of future climate will be deduced from RCMs. These data serve as input data for SNOWPACK runs that allow an assessment of the future seasonal snow in the Switzerland. The results will be of high relevance for environmental impact assessments and adaptation measures, which are increasingly necessary in warming Alpine regions, where economy and ecology is strongly linked to the availability of snow.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Name Institute

Publications

Publication
Evaluation of modelled snow depth and snow water equivalent at three contrasting sites in Switzerland using SNOWPACK simulations driven by different meteorological data input
Schmucki Edgar, Marty Christoph, Fierz Charles, Lehning Michael (2013), Evaluation of modelled snow depth and snow water equivalent at three contrasting sites in Switzerland using SNOWPACK simulations driven by different meteorological data input, in Cold Regions Science and Technology, 99, 27-37.
Impact of climate change in Switzerland on socioeconomic snow indices
Schmucki E. Marty C. Fierz C. Weingartner R. Lehning M., Impact of climate change in Switzerland on socioeconomic snow indices, in Theoretical and Applied Climatology.
Recent evidence of large scale receding snow water equivalents in the European Alps
Marty C. A. Tilg and T. Jonas, Recent evidence of large scale receding snow water equivalents in the European Alps, in J. Hydrometeor.
Simulations of 21st century snow response to climate change in Switzerland from a set of RCMs
Schmucki Edgar, Simulations of 21st century snow response to climate change in Switzerland from a set of RCMs, in International Journal of Climatology..

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Universität Innsbruck Austria (Europe)
- Exchange of personnel
Electricite de France France (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
IAC ETHZ; GIUB UNIBE Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Exchange of personnel

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
EGU Poster Simulating future snow depth using SNOWPACK coupled with climate change projections 28.04.2014 Vienna, Austria Fierz Charles; Schmucki Edgar; Marty Christoph;
ISSW 2013 Talk given at a conference Trend analysis of snow density and water equivalent in the Alpine region 07.10.2013 Grenoble, France Marty Christoph; Fierz Charles;
DACA-13 Talk given at a conference Trend analysis of snow water equivalent in the Alpine region 08.07.2013 Davos, Switzerland Marty Christoph; Fierz Charles;
Colloquium of the Hydrology Group at the University of Berne Individual talk Past Changes and Future Trends of the Swiss Snowpack – snow water equivalent and modeling challenges 10.04.2013 Bern, Switzerland Weingartner Rolf; Fierz Charles; Marty Christoph; Schmucki Edgar;
RCM Workshop Poster SNOWPACK model uncertainty and future trends of the Alpine snow cover 04.02.2013 Zürich, Switzerland Schmucki Edgar; Marty Christoph; Fierz Charles;
Swiss Geoscience Meeting Poster SNOWPACK model uncertainty and future trends of the Alpine snow cover 16.11.2012 Bern, Switzerland Schmucki Edgar;
Swiss Geoscience Meeting Talk given at a conference Trend analysis of snow water equivalent 16.11.2012 Bern, Switzerland Marty Christoph;
Colloquium of the Hydrology Group at the University of Berne Individual talk Past Changes and Future Trends of the Swiss Snowpack – SNOWPACK model uncertainty and future trends of the Alpine snow cover 07.11.2012 Bern, Switzerland Marty Christoph; Fierz Charles; Schmucki Edgar; Weingartner Rolf;
11th International NCCR Climate Summer School Poster SNOWPACK model uncertainty and future trends of the Alpine snow cover 09.09.2012 Ascona, Switzerland Weingartner Rolf; Schmucki Edgar; Fierz Charles; Marty Christoph;
11th International NCCR Climate Summer School “The Water Cycle in a Changing Climate: Observations, Scenarios, Impacts” Poster SNOWPACK model uncertainty and future trends of the Alpine snow cover 09.09.2012 Ascona, Switzerland Schmucki Edgar;
Colloquium of the Hydrology Group at the University of Berne Individual talk Past Changes and Future Trends of the Swiss Snowpack – radiation parameterization and precipitation correctionof the Alpine snow cove 22.02.2012 Uni Bern, Switzerland Schmucki Edgar; Weingartner Rolf; Marty Christoph;
Climate Change in High Mountain Regions - From Understanding of the Past to Modelling of the Future Talk given at a conference 75 years of snow and weather observation at Weissfluhjoch 29.08.2011 Salzburg, Austria Fierz Charles; Marty Christoph;


Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
Neue Klimaszenarien für die Schweiz (CH2011) Talk 16.11.2011 SLF Davos, Switzerland Fierz Charles; Marty Christoph;


Self-organised

Title Date Place

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Talks/events/exhibitions Science Coffee German-speaking Switzerland 2013
Media relations: print media, online media (Many) (Many) German-speaking Switzerland International Rhaeto-Romanic Switzerland 2012

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
125332 Understanding the small scale variability of the mountain snow cover 01.07.2009 Project funding (Div. I-III)
126889 Formation of wet-snow avalanches 01.10.2009 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

The high inter-annual variability of the snow depth proves that it is very sensitive to the prevailing meteorological conditions. On the one hand, we experienced the impact of snow scarcity during the warm and dry early 1990’s and again in winter 2006/2007. On the other hand, the snowy winters 1998/1999 and 2008/2009 reminded us that snow still bears considerable hazards such as heavy loads on infrastructure, traffic closures, spring flooding and avalanches. Both situations led to widespread discussions about the impact of climate change on snow and its high relevance for an Alpine country like Switzerland. However, due to missing data the snow cover in Switzerland has so far only been analyzed back to the 1930’s whereas the latest snow climatological study on snow water equivalent (SWE) data dates back to 1992. Moreover, recent investigations on the possible developments of the future Alpine snowpack are mostly case studies and cannot be compared due to the different approaches used. The objective of the proposed research project is therefore to constitute the first comprehensive study of Switzerland which, regarding snow depth, goes back to the end of the 19th century and regarding snow water equivalent, allows analysing the full record up to now. Moreover, our goal is to obtain future snowpack scenarios resolving the different regions using a state of the art snow-cover model with input from the newest regional climate models (RCMs) and latest downscaling techniques. The scenarios will be based on thoroughly validated reference runs. The study consists of two parts, which together will provide new insights on past and future changes of the Swiss snowpack. 1. Past changes: Recently discovered old datasets of snow depth back to the 19th century from different archives will be digitized. Data gaps in existing long-term time series will be filled based on recently developed interpolation methods. Newly digitized and existing data will be joined and analyzed for trends and shifts in mean, extremes and variability. A special focus will be given to the spatial extreme value analysis of the different parameters and whether snow water equivalent records show similar signatures of climate-related variability, as is the case with snow depth records.2. Future snowpack: First, today’s average snow cover accumulation and depletion dynamics for different altitudes and regions will be assessed based on respective simulations using the 1-D snow-cover model SNOWPACK for a representative set of sites that feature both meteorological model input data and snow data for validation. Hence, all model results can be verified and accuracies can be quantified, before the model estimations will be used as a reference for subsequent model runs representing snow cover dynamics using IPCC climate change scenarios. Therefore, meteorological data representative of future climate will be deduced using changes as predicted by ensembles of latest RCM runs. These data serve as input data for model runs that allow an assessment of the impact of climatic change on seasonal snow in the Switzerland. A methodological emphasis will be set to refined stochastic downscaling methods coupling RCM data to observed meteorological data records.The results will be of high relevance for environmental impact assessments and adaptation measures, which are increasingly necessary in warming Alpine regions, where economy and ecology is strongly linked to the availability of snow.
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