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Climate Change May Make Snowpack Smaller, Melt Faster

NPS / J. Tobiason

Climate change may make snowpack in the coming years smaller and force it to melt earlier in the year.

University of Wyoming associate professor in civil engineering Noriaki Ohara said his team predicted future climates using computer models. They explored 13 different climate scenarios, each reflecting different carbon emissions.

He said the tricky part was narrowing down the global model to look at small regions because they wanted to focus on three important watersheds that supply water for a large portion of California's population. But Ohara said the result is extendable to Wyoming.

"[The] fraction of the snowfall out of the precipitation decreased, so [there was] therefore a smaller snowpack, especially in the lower elevations," he said. "For higher elevations, the snow melts very fast, so therefore the peak season should be earlier."

Ohara said most models measure the effects of air temperature, but this one also accounts for humidity, wind speed, and radiation from the sun.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu.

Ashley is a PhD student in Astronomy and Physics at UW. She loves to communicate science and does so with WPM, on the Astrobites blog, and through outreach events. She was born in Colorado and got her BS in Engineering Physics at Colorado School of Mines. Ashley loves hiking and backpacking during Wyoming days and the clear starry skies at night!
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