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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 23 Jan 2020

Submitted as: research article | 23 Jan 2020

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A revised version of this preprint was accepted for the journal TC.

Historical Northern Hemisphere snow cover trends and projected changes in the CMIP-6 multi-model ensemble

Lawrence Mudryk1, Maria Santolaria-Otín2, Gerhard Krinner2, Martin Ménégoz2, Chris Derksen1, Claire Brutel-Vuilmet2, Mike Brady1, and Richard Essery3 Lawrence Mudryk et al.
  • 1Climate Research Division, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Toronto, M3H 5T4, Canada
  • 2Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, IGE, 38000, Grenoble, France
  • 3School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH9 3FF, UK

Abstract. This paper presents an analysis of observed and simulated historical snow cover extent and snow mass, along with future snow cover projections from models participating in the 6th phase of the World Climate Research Programme Coupled Model Inter-comparison Project (CMIP-6). Where appropriate, the CMIP-6 output is compared to CMIP-5 results in order to assess progress (or absence thereof) between successive model generations. An ensemble of six products are used to produce a new time series of northern hemisphere snow extent anomalies and trends; a subset of four of these products are used for snow mass. Trends in snow extent over 1981–2018 are negative in all months, and exceed −50 × 103 km2 during November, December, March, and May. Snow mass trends are approximately −5 Gt/year or more for all months from December to May. Overall, the CMIP-6 multi-model ensemble better represents the snow extent climatology over the 1981–2014 period for all months, correcting a low bias in CMIP-5. Simulated snow extent and snow mass trends over the 1981–2014 period are slightly stronger in CMIP-6 than in CMIP-5, although large inter-model spread remains in the simulated trends for both variables. There is a single linear relationship between projected spring snow extent and global surface air temperature (GSAT) changes, which is valid across all scenarios. This finding suggests that Northern Hemisphere spring snow extent will decrease by about 8 % relative to the 1995–2014 level per °C of GSAT increase. The sensitivity of snow to temperature forcing largely explains the absence of any climate change pathway dependency, similar to other fast response components of the cryosphere such as sea ice and near surface permafrost.

Lawrence Mudryk et al.

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Lawrence Mudryk et al.

Lawrence Mudryk et al.


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Latest update: 27 May 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
We analyze the ability of state-of-the-art climate models to simulate the climatology and trends of Northern Hemisphere seasonal snow cover and snow mass. The performance of the most recent generation of climate models contributing to the 6th phase of the Coupled Model Inter-comparison Project (CMIP-6) is compared to the previous generation of models and to observational estimates.
We analyze the ability of state-of-the-art climate models to simulate the climatology and trends...