Significant Snowpack Melt Amplifies Climate Impacts in Mountain Regions

Study shows Snowpack Levels Continue to Decrease / Everest

A new study published in the Reviews of Geophysics compares climate data from high mountain regions with lowland zones using direct observations and models. When examined through local comparisons, the data suggests that mountain regions may be warming and losing snow quicker than previously anticipated, and at a faster rate than the surrounding lowlands.

"This means that temperature increases at sea level are likely to be amplified in high mountains," said Dr. Nick Pepin of the School of Environment, Geography and Geosciences at Portsmouth. "And this can only be bad news for mountain snow and glaciers, which are continuing to melt at a rapid rate." Around the world 1.9 billion people rely on glaciers for drinking water and to irrigate their crops.

A separate study, published just yesterday, found that Mt. Everest's highest glacier (South Col Glacier, 8020 m) has lost 2,000 years of ice in 30 years.

Why This Matters

Mountains are commonly referred to as the "water towers" of the west, storing as much as 162 million acre-feet of water annually -- a volume larger than that of Lake Tahoe. Beyond the Polar Regions, mountains hold most of the world's snow and ice. They are essential to water supply and the support of fragile ecosystems.

Without a consistent snowpack, the West doesn’t have water reserves to rely on in times of extreme drought. The impacts of a reduced snowpack have a negative cascading effect, influencing "the timing and magnitude of groundwater recharge, vegetation dynamics, and stream discharge, which then directly impacts water availability," according to an analysis in Nature Reviews Materials.

"Snow on the ground is an essential and widespread component of the mountain cryosphere." the IPCC writes. Adding that snowpack "plays a key role in nourishing glaciers and provides an insulating and reflective cover at their surface." Across the US and Canada, glacial melt is "'mirroring' global temperature rise."

The Last Glaciers (Teaser), August 4, 2020.

The Future Of Winter In The West

With current CO2 emissions, certain mountain regions within the American West are projected to be potentially snowless within the next 30 to 60 years. While it's demand remains constant, snowpack is currently melting off faster than ever. For example, Colorado relies on it for nearly two-thirds of its annual water.

"The current snow situation in the West offers a preview of what the future may hold. Snow water equivalent, or the liquid water from snowpack, is much lower than normal in much of the Western United States," writes the Washington Post

WW0: Protecting Our Winters - Earth Day Live, April 22, 2021.