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Dramatic declines in snowpack in the western US

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Author(s): Philip W. Mote, Sihan Li, Dennis P. Lettenmaier, Mu Xiao, Ruth Engel

Document Type:
Publisher: Climate and Atmospheric Science
Published Year: 2018
Volume: 1
Number: 2
Pages: 6
DOI Identifier: 10.1038/s41612-018-0012-1
ISBN Identifier:

Mountain snowpack stores a significant quantity of water in the western US, accumulating during the wet season and melting during the dry summers and supplying much of the water used for irrigated agriculture, and municipal and industrial uses. Updating our earlier work published in 2005, we find that with 14 additional years of data, over 90% of snow monitoring sites with long records across the western US now show declines, of which 33% are significant (vs. 5% expected by chance) and 2% are significant and positive (vs. 5% expected by chance). Declining trends are observed across all months, states, and climates, but are largest in spring, in the Pacific states, and in locations with mild winter climate. We corroborate and extend these observations using a gridded hydrology model, which also allows a robust estimate of total western snowpack and its decline. We find a large increase in the fraction of locations that posted decreasing trends, and averaged across the western US, the decline in average April 1 snow water equivalent since mid-century is roughly 15–30% or 25–50 km3, comparable in volume to the West's largest man-made reservoir, Lake Mead.

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Suggested Citations:
In Text Citation:
Mote and others (2018) or (Mote et al., 2018)

References Citation:
Mote, P.W., S. Li, D.P. Lettenmaier, M. Xiao, and R. Engel, 2018, Dramatic declines in snowpack in the western US: Climate and Atmospheric Science, Vol. 1, No. 2, 6 p., doi: 10.1038/s41612-018-0012-1.