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Management Implications of Snowpack Sensitivity to Temperature and Atmospheric Moisture Changes in Yosemite National Park, CA


In order to investigate snowpack sensitivity to temperature increases and end-member atmospheric-moisture conditions, we applied a well-constrained energy- and mass-balance snow model across the full elevation range of seasonal snowpack using forcing data from recent wet and dry years. Humidity scenarios examined were constant relative humidity (high) and constant vapor pressure between storms (low). With minimum calibration, model results captured the observed magnitude and timing of snowmelt. April 1 SWE losses of 38, 73, and 90% with temperature increases of 2, 4, and 6°C in a dry year centered on areas of greatest SWE accumulation. Each 2°C increment of warming also resulted in seasonal snowline moving upslope by 300 m. The zone of maximum melt was compressed upwards 100-500 m with 6°C warming, with the range reflecting differences in basin hypsometry. Melt contribution by elevations below 2000 m disappeared with 4°C warming. The constant-relative-humidity scenario resulted in 0-100 mm less snowpack in late spring versus the constant-vapor-pressure scenario in a wet year, a difference driven by increased thermal radiation (+1.2 W m-2) and turbulent energy fluxes (+1.2 W m-2) to the snowpack for the constant-relative-humidity case. Loss of snowpack storage and potential increases in forest evapotranspiration due to warming will result in a substantial shift in forest water balance and present major challenges to land management in this mountainous region.

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