Multi-decadal analysis of past winter temperature, precipitation and snow cover data in the European Alps from reanalyses, climate models and observational datasets

Monteiro, Diego ; Morin, Samuel

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<p align=justify>Assessing past distributions, variability and trends in the mountain snow cover and its first-order drivers, temperature and precipitation, is key for a wide range of studies and applications. In this study, we compare the results of various modeling systems (global and regional reanalyses ERA5, ERA5-Land, ERA5-Crocus, CERRA-Land, UERRA MESCAN-SURFEX and MTMSI and regional climate model simulations CNRM-ALADIN and CNRM-AROME driven by the global reanalysis ERA-Interim) against observational references (in situ, gridded observational datasets and satellite observations) across the European Alps from 1950 to 2020. The comparisons are performed in terms of monthly and seasonal snow cover variables (snow depth and snow cover duration) and their main atmospherical drivers (near-surface temperature and precipitation). We assess multi-annual averages of regional and subregional mean values, their interannual variations, and trends over various timescales, mainly for the winter period (from November through April). ERA5, ERA5-Crocus, MESCAN-SURFEX, CERRA-Land and MTMSI offer a satisfying description of the monthly snow evolution. However, a spatial comparison against satellite observation indicates that all datasets overestimate the snow cover duration, especially the melt-out date. CNRM-AROME and CNRM-ALADIN simulations and ERA5-Land exhibit an overestimation of the snow accumulation during winter, increasing with elevations. The analysis of the interannual variability and trends indicates that modeling snow cover dynamics remains complex across multiple scales and that none of the models evaluated here fully succeed to reproduce this compared to observational reference datasets. Indeed, while most of the evaluated model outputs perform well at representing the interannual to multi-decadal winter temperature and precipitation variability, they often fail to address the variability in the snow depth and snow cover duration. We discuss several artifacts potentially responsible for incorrect long-term climate trends in several reanalysis products (ERA5 and MESCAN-SURFEX), which we attribute primarily to the heterogeneities of the observation datasets assimilated. Nevertheless, many of the considered datasets in this study exhibit past trends in line with the current state of knowledge. Based on these datasets, over the last 50 years (1968-2017) at a regional scale, the European Alps have experienced a winter warming of 0.3 to 0.4 ∘C per decade, stronger at lower elevations, and a small reduction in winter precipitation, homogeneous with elevation. The decline in the winter snow depth and snow cover duration ranges from −7 % to −15 % per decade and from −5 to −7 d per decade, respectively, both showing a larger decrease at low and intermediate elevations. Overall, we show that no modeling strategy outperforms all others within our sample and that upstream choices (horizontal resolution, heterogeneity of the observations used for data assimilation in reanalyses, coupling between surface and atmosphere, level of complexity, configuration of the snow scheme, etc.) have great consequences on the quality of the datasets and their potential use. Despite their limitations, in many cases they can be used to characterize the main features of the mountain snow cover for a range of applications.</p>
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