Rain-on-snow responses to warmer Pyrenees: a sensitivity analysis using a physically based snow hydrological model

Bonsoms, Josep; López-Moreno, Juan I.; Alonso-González, Esteban; Deschamps-Berger, César; Oliva, Marc

Climate warming is changing the magnitude, timing, and spatial patterns of mountain snowpacks. A warmer atmosphere may also induce precipitation phase shifts, resulting in a decreased snowfall fraction (Sf). The combination of Sf and snowpack directly influences the frequency and intensity of rain-on-snow (ROS) events, a common cause of flash-flood events in snow-dominated regions. In this work, we investigate ROS patterns and their sensitivity to temperature and precipitation changes in the Pyrenees by modeling ROS through a physically based snow model. This model is forced with reanalysis climate data for elevations of 1500, 1800, and 2400 m perturbed using a range of temperature and precipitation values consistent with 21st century climate projections. ROS patterns are characterized by their frequency, rainfall quantity, and snow ablation. The highest ROS frequency for the historical climate period (1980–2019) is found in the 2400 m zones of the southwest Pyrenees (17 d yrinline-formula−1). The maximum ROS rainfall amount is detected in 1800 m areas of the southeast (45 mm dinline-formula−1, autumn), whereas the highest ROS ablation is found in the 2400 m zones of the northwest (inline-formula−10 cm dinline-formula−1, summer). When air temperature increases from 1 to 4 inline-formulaC compared to the historical climate period, ROS rainfall amount and frequency increase at a constant rate during winter and early spring for all elevation zones. For the rest of the seasons, non-linear responses of ROS frequency and ablation to warming are found. Overall, ROS frequency decreases in the shoulders of the season across eastern low-elevation zones due to snow cover depletion. However, ROS increases in cold, high-elevation zones where long-lasting snow cover exists until late spring. Similarly, warming induces greater ROS ablation (inline-formula+10 % inline-formulaCinline-formula−1) during the coldest months of the season, 2400 m elevations, and northern sectors, where the deepest snow depths are found. In contrast, small differences in ROS ablation are found for warm and marginal snowpacks. These results highlight the different ROS responses to warming across the mountain range, suggest similar ROS sensitivities in near-mid-latitude zones, and will help anticipate future ROS impacts in hydrological, environmental, and socioeconomic mountain systems.

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Bonsoms, Josep / López-Moreno, Juan I. / Alonso-González, Esteban / et al: Rain-on-snow responses to warmer Pyrenees: a sensitivity analysis using a physically based snow hydrological model. 2024. Copernicus Publications.

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