Articles | Volume 17, issue 7
Research article
09 Jul 2013
Research article |  | 09 Jul 2013

Climate change impacts on maritime mountain snowpack in the Oregon Cascades

E. A. Sproles, A. W. Nolin, K. Rittger, and T. H. Painter

Abstract. This study investigates the effect of projected temperature increases on maritime mountain snowpack in the McKenzie River Basin (MRB; 3041 km2) in the Cascades Mountains of Oregon, USA. We simulated the spatial distribution of snow water equivalent (SWE) in the MRB for the period of 1989–2009 with SnowModel, a spatially-distributed, process-based model (Liston and Elder, 2006b). Simulations were evaluated using point-based measurements of SWE, precipitation, and temperature that showed Nash-Sutcliffe Efficiency coefficients of 0.83, 0.97, and 0.80, respectively. Spatial accuracy was shown to be 82% using snow cover extent from the Landsat Thematic Mapper. The validated model then evaluated the inter- and intra-year sensitivity of basin wide snowpack to projected temperature increases (2 °C) and variability in precipitation (±10%). Results show that a 2 °C increase in temperature would shift the average date of peak snowpack 12 days earlier and decrease basin-wide volumetric snow water storage by 56%. Snowpack between the elevations of 1000 and 2000 m is the most sensitive to increases in temperature. Upper elevations were also affected, but to a lesser degree. Temperature increases are the primary driver of diminished snowpack accumulation, however variability in precipitation produce discernible changes in the timing and volumetric storage of snowpack. The results of this study are regionally relevant as melt water from the MRB's snowpack provides critical water supply for agriculture, ecosystems, and municipalities throughout the region especially in summer when water demand is high. While this research focused on one watershed, it serves as a case study examining the effects of climate change on maritime snow, which comprises 10% of the Earth's seasonal snow cover.