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Modeling and measuring snow for assessing climate change impacts in Glacier National Park, Montana

January 1, 2002

A 12-year program of global change research at Glacier National Park by the U.S. Geological Survey and numerous collaborators has made progress in quantifying the role of snow as a driver of mountain ecosystem processes. Spatially extensive snow surveys during the annual accumulation/ablation cycle covered two mountain watersheds and approximately 1,000 km2 . Over 7,000 snow depth and snow water equivalent (SWE) measurements have been made through spring 2002. These augment two SNOTEL sites, 9 NRCS snow courses, and approximately 150 snow pit analyses. Snow data were used to establish spatially-explicit interannual variability in snowpack SWE. East of the Continental Divide, snowpack SWE was lower but also less variable than west of the Divide. Analysis of snowpacks suggest downward trends in SWE, a reduction in snow cover duration, and earlier melt-out dates during the past 52 years. Concurrently, high elevation forests and treelines have responded with increased growth. However, the 80 year record of snow from 3 NRCS snow courses reflects a strong influence from the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, resulting in 20-30 year phases of greater or lesser mean SWE. Coupled with the fine-resolution spatial snow data from the two watersheds, the ecological consequences of changes in snowpack can be empirically assessed at a habitat patch scale. This will be required because snow distribution models have had varied success in simulating snowpack accumulation/ablation dynamics in these mountain watersheds, ranging from R2=0.38 for individual south-facing forested snow survey routes to R2=0.95 when aggregated to the watershed scale. Key ecological responses to snowpack changes occur below the watershed scale, such as snow-mediated expansion of forest into subalpine meadows, making continued spatially-explicit snow surveys a necessity. 

Publication Year 2002
Title Modeling and measuring snow for assessing climate change impacts in Glacier National Park, Montana
Authors Daniel B. Fagre, David J. Selkowitz, Blase Reardon, Karen Holzer, Lisa McKeon
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70159906
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse