Temperature and precipitation are key determinants of snowpack levels. Therefore, climate change is likely to affect the role of snow and ice in the landscapes and hydrology of the Chugach National Forest region.
Downscaled climate projections developed by Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning (SNAP) are useful for examining projected changes in snow at relatively fine resolution using a variable called “snowday fraction (SDF),” the percentage of days with precipitation falling as snow.
We summarized SNAP monthly SDF from five different global climate models for the Chugach region by 500 m elevation bands, and compared historical (1971–2000) and future (2030–2059) SDF. We found that:
Snow-day fraction and snow-water equivalent (SWE) are projected to decline most in late autumn (October to November) and at lower elevations.
Snow-day fraction is projected to decrease 23 percent (averaged across five climate models) from October to March, between sea level and 500 m. Between sea level and 1000 m, SDF is projected to decrease by 17 percent between October and March.
Snow-water equivalent is projected to decrease most in autumn (October and November) and at lower elevations (below 1500 m), an average of -26 percent for the 2030–2059 period compared to 1971– 2000. Averaged across the cool season and the entire domain, SWE is projected to decrease at elevations below 1000 m because of increased temperature, but increase at higher elevations because of increased precipitation.
Compared to 1971–2000, the percentage of the landscape that is snowdominant in 2030–2059 is projected to decrease, and the percentage in which rain and snow are co-dominant (transient hydrology) is projected to increase from 27 to 37 percent. Most of this change is at lower elevations.
Glaciers on the Chugach National Forest are currently losing about 6 km3 of ice per year; half of this loss comes from Columbia Glacier (Berthier et al. 2010).
Over the past decade, almost all glaciers surveyed within the Chugach have lost mass (with one exception), including glaciers that have advancing termini (Larsen et al. 2015).
Glaciers that are not calving into the ocean are typically thinning by 3 m/year at their termini (Larsen et al. 2015).
In the future, glaciers not calving into the ocean will retreat and shrink at rates equivalent to or higher than current rates of ice loss (Larsen et al. 2015).
Columbia Glacier will likely retreat another 15 km and break into multiple tributaries over the next 20 years before stabilizing.
Other tidewater glaciers have uncertain futures, but likely will not advance significantly in coming decades.
These impacts will likely affect recreation and tourism through changes in reliable snowpack and access to recreation and viewsheds.
Additional publication details
Federal Government Series
Snow and ice: Chapter 3
General Technical Report
U.S. Forest Service
National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center, National Climate Adaptation Science Center
Larger Work Type
Larger Work Subtype
Federal Government Series
Larger Work Title
Climate change vulnerability assessment for the Chugach National Forest and the Kenai Peninsula