Publications

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2013
Pierce, DW, Cayan DR.  2013.  The uneven response of different snow measures to human-induced climate warming. Journal of Climate. 26:4148-4167.   10.1175/jcli-d-12-00534.1   AbstractWebsite

The effect of human-induced climate warming on different snow measures in the western United States is compared by calculating the time required to achieve a statistically significant linear trend in the different measures, using time series derived from regionally downscaled global climate models. The measures examined include the water content of the spring snowpack, total cold-season snowfall, fraction of winter precipitation that falls as snow, length of the snow season, and fraction of cold-season precipitation retained in the spring snowpack, as well as temperature and precipitation. Various stakeholders may be interested in different sets of these variables. It is found that temperature and the fraction of winter precipitation that falls as snow exhibit significant trends first, followed in 5-10 years by the fraction of cold-season precipitation retained in the spring snowpack, and later still by the water content of the spring snowpack. Change in total cold-season snowfall is least detectable of all the measures, since it is strongly linked to precipitation, which has large natural variability and only a weak anthropogenic trend in the western United States. Averaging over increasingly wider areas monotonically increases the signal-to-noise ratio of the 1950-2025 linear trend from 0.15 to 0.37, depending on the snow measure.

2001
Cayan, DR, Kammerdiener SA, Dettinger MD, Caprio JM, Peterson DH.  2001.  Changes in the onset of spring in the western United States. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. 82:399-415.   10.1175/1520-0477(2001)082<0399:citoos>2.3.co;2   AbstractWebsite

Fluctuations in spring climate in the western United States over the last 4-5 decades are described by examining changes in the blooming of plants and the timing of snowmelt-runoff pulses. The two measures of spring's onset that are employed are the timing of first bloom of lilac and honeysuckle bushes from a long-term cooperative phenological network, and the timing of the first major pulse of snowmelt recorded from high-elevation streams. Both measures contain year-to-year fluctuations, with typical year-to year fluctuations at a given site of one to three weeks. These fluctuations are spatially coherent, forming regional patterns that cover most of the west. Fluctuations in lilac first bloom dates are highly correlated to those of honeysuckle, and both are significantly correlated with those of the spring snowmelt pulse. Each of these measures, then, probably respond to a common mechanism. Various analyses indicate that anomalous temperature exerts the greatest influence upon both interannual and secular changes in the onset of spring in these networks. Earlier spring onsets since the late 1970s are a remarkable feature of the records, and reflect the unusual spell of warmer-than-normal springs in western North America during this period. The warm episodes are clearly related to larger-scale atmospheric conditions across North America and the North Pacific, but whether this is predominantly an expression of natural variability or also a symptom of global warming is not certain.