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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Snowpack radiative heating: Influence on Tibetan Plateau climate

  • Author(s): Flanner, Mark G;
  • Zender, C. S.
  • et al.

 Solar absorption decays exponentially with depth in snowpacks. However, most climate models constrain all snowpack absorption to occur uniformly in the top-most snow layer. We show that 20–45% of solar absorption by deep snowpacks occurs more than 2 cm beneath the surface. Accounting for vertically-resolved solar heating alters steady-state snow mass without changing bulk snow albedo, and ice-albedo feedback amplifies this effect. Vertically-resolved snowpack heating reduces winter snow mass on the Tibetan Plateau by 80% in one GCM, and significantly increases 2 m air temperature. These changes significantly reduce model-measurement discrepancies. Our results demonstrate that snowpack radiative heating plays a significant role in regulating surface climate and hydrology. More accurate snowpack radiation has the potential to improve predictions of related climate processes, such as spring runoff and the Asian Monsoon.

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