Journal article

Impact of climate change in Switzerland on socioeconomic snow indices

Snow is a key element for many socioeconomic activities in mountainous regions. Due to the sensitivity of the snow cover to variations of temperature and precipitation, major changes caused by climate change are expected to happen. We analyze the evolution of some key snow indices under future climatic conditions. Ten downscaled and postprocessed climate scenarios from the ENSEMBLES database have been used to feed the physics-based snow model SNOWPACK. The projected snow cover has been calculated for 11 stations representing the diverse climates found in Switzerland. For the first time, such a setup is used to reveal changes in frequently applied snow indices and their implications on various socioeconomic sectors. Toward the end of the twenty-first century, a continuous snow cover is likely only guaranteed at high elevations above 2000 m a.s.l., whereas at mid elevations (1000-1700 m a.s.l.), roughly 50 % of all winters might be characterized by an ephemeral snow cover. Low elevations (below 500 m a.s.l.) are projected to experience only 2 days with snowfall per year and show the strongest relative reductions in mean winter snow depth of around 90 %. The range of the mean relative reductions of the snow indices is dominated by uncertainties from different GCM-RCM projections and amounts to approximately 30 %. Despite these uncertainties, all snow indices show a clear decrease in all scenario periods and the relative reductions increase toward lower elevations. These strong reductions can serve as a basis for policy makers in the fields of tourism, ecology, and hydropower.


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