In Alaska’s watersheds, climate change is altering the nature and role of the snowpack, defined as snow accumulation that melts in spring. Generally, the amount of precipitation that falls as snow and the length of the snow-cover season both decrease as temperatures exceed 0°C (32°F) more frequently. The impacts of climate change on snowpack vary among watersheds. In southern, coastal parts of Alaska, large decreases in spring snowpack are expected by the mid-21st century, even with more winter precipitation because temperatures warm to above freezing, causing a shift from snow to rain or more melt during the winter. In contrast, modest early spring increases in the snowpack are expected in watersheds where temperatures remain below freezing. In these locations temperatures warm but remain cold enough for the extra winter precipitation to fall as snow, even though the snowpack will begin accumulating later in the fall and melt earlier in the spring as temperatures rise during those warmer seasons. Because potential impacts on hydrological and ecological systems will vary among watersheds, it is difficult to generalize the resulting ecological impacts at broad spatial scales. Here, we explore likely impacts on hydrology in critical anadromous fish habitat in southwest Alaska.

Citation

Littell, J.S., Reynolds, J.H., Bartz, K.K., McAfee, S.A., and Hayward, G.. 2020. So goes the snow: Alaska snowpack changes in a warming climate. Alaska Park Science. 191: 62-75. https://www.nps.gov/articles/aps-19-1-10.htm#:~:text=Changing%20Underwater%20World-,So%20Goes%20the%20Snow%3A%20Alaska%20Snowpack%20Changes%20and%20Impacts%20on,Salmon%20in%20a%20Warming%20Climate&text=Generally%2C%20the%20amount%20of%20precipitation,on%2.