Twentieth century temperature and snow cover changes in the French Alps

Beaumet, Julien ; Ménégoz, Martin ; Morin, Samuel ; Gallée, Hubert ; Fettweis, Xavier ; Six, Delphine ; Vincent, Christian ; Wilhelm, Bruno ; Anquetin, Sandrine

Année de publication
2021
Résumé
<p align=justify>Changes in snow cover associated with the warming of the French Alps greatly influence social-ecological systems through their impact on water resources, mountain ecosystems, economic activities, and glacier mass balance. In this study, we investigated trends in snow cover and temperature over the twentieth century using climate model and reanalysis data. The evolution of temperature, precipitation and snow cover in the European Alps has been simulated with the Modèle Atmospherique Régional (MAR) applied with a 7-km horizontal resolution and driven by ERA-20C (1902-2010) and ERA5 (1981-2018) reanalyses data. Snow cover duration and snow water equivalent (SWE) simulated with MAR are compared to the SAFRAN - SURFEX-ISBA-Crocus - MEPRA meteorological and snow cover reanalysis (S2M) data across the French Alps (1958-2018) and in situ glacier mass balance measurements. MAR outputs provide a realistic distribution of SWE and snow cover duration as a function of elevation in the French Alps. Large disagreements are found between the datasets in terms of absolute warming trends over the second part of the twentieth century. MAR and S2M trends are in relatively good agreement for the decrease in snow cover duration, with higher decreases at low elevation ($\sim $5-10%/decade). Consistent with other studies, the highest warming rates in MAR occur at low elevations (< 1000 m a.s.l) in winter, whereas they are found at high elevations (> 2000 m a.s.l) in summer. In spring, warming trends show a maximum at intermediate elevations (1500 to 1800 m). Our results suggest that higher warming at these elevations is mostly linked to the snow-albedo feedback in spring and summer caused by the disappearance of snow cover at higher elevation during these seasons. This work has evidenced that depending on the season and the period considered, enhanced warming at higher elevations may or may not be found. Additional analysis in a physically comprehensive way and more high-quality dataset, especially at high elevations, are still required to better constrain and quantify climate change impacts in the Alps and its relation to elevation.</p>
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