Projection of snowfall extremes in the French Alps as a function of elevation and global warming level

Le Roux, Erwan ; Evin, Guillaume ; Samacoïts, Raphaëlle ; Eckert, Nicolas ; Blanchet, Juliette ; Morin, Samuel

Année de publication
<p align=justify>Following the projected increase in extreme precipitation, an increase in extreme snowfall may be expected in cold regions, e.g., for high latitudes or at high elevations. By contrast, in low- to medium-elevation areas, the probability of experiencing rainfall instead of snowfall is generally projected to increase due to warming conditions. Yet, in mountainous areas, despite the likely existence of these contrasted trends according to elevation, changes in extreme snowfall with warming remain poorly quantified. This paper assesses projected changes in heavy and extreme snowfall, i.e., in mean annual maxima and 100-year return levels, in the French Alps as a function of elevation and global warming level. We apply a recent methodology, based on the analysis of annual maxima with non-stationary extreme value models, to an ensemble of 20 adjusted general circulation model-regional climate model (GCM-RCM) pairs from the EURO-CORDEX experiment under the Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5) scenario. For each of the 23 massifs of the French Alps, maxima in the hydrological sense (1 August to 31 July) are provided from 1951 to 2100 and every 300 m of elevations between 900 and 3600 m. Results rely on relative or absolute changes computed with respect to current climate conditions (corresponding here to <span class="inline-formula">+1</span> <span class="inline-formula"><sup>?</sup></span>C global warming level) at the massif scale and averaged over all massifs. Overall, daily mean annual maxima of snowfall are projected to decrease below 3000 m and increase above 3600 m, while 100-year return levels are projected to decrease below 2400 m and increase above 3300 m. At elevations in between, values are on average projected to increase until <span class="inline-formula">+3</span> <span class="inline-formula"><sup>?</sup></span>C of global warming and then decrease. At <span class="inline-formula">+4</span> <span class="inline-formula"><sup>?</sup></span>C, average relative changes in mean annual maxima and 100-year return levels, respectively, vary from <span class="inline-formula">?26 <i>%</i></span> and <span class="inline-formula">?15 <i>%</i></span> at 900 m to <span class="inline-formula">+3 <i>%</i></span> and <span class="inline-formula">+8 <i>%</i></span> at 3600 m. Finally, for each global warming level between <span class="inline-formula">+1.5</span> and <span class="inline-formula">+4</span> <span class="inline-formula"><sup>?</sup></span>C, we compute the elevation threshold that separates contrasted trends, i.e., where the average relative change equals zero. This elevation threshold is shown to be lower for higher return periods, and it is projected to rise from 3000 m at <span class="inline-formula">+1.5</span> <span class="inline-formula"><sup>?</sup></span>C to 3350 m at <span class="inline-formula">+4</span> <span class="inline-formula"><sup>?</sup></span>C for mean annual maxima and from 2600 to 3000 m for 100-year return levels. These results have implications for the management of risks related to extreme snowfall.</p>
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