Response of snow processes to climate change: spatial variability in a small basin in the Spanish Pyrenees


Correspondence to: Juan Ignacio López Moreno, Campus de Aula Dei. Avda. Montañana 1005, Zaragoza 50.059, Spain



In this study, the Cold Regions Hydrological Modelling platform was used to create an alpine snow model including wind redistribution of snow and energy balance snowmelt to simulate the snowpack over the period 1996–2009 in a small (33 ha) snow-dominated basin in the Spanish Pyrenees. The basin was divided into three hydrological response units (HRUs), based on contrasting physiographic and aerodynamic characteristics. A sensitivity analysis was conducted to calculate the snow water equivalent regime for various combinations of temperature and precipitation that differed from observed conditions. The results show that there was large inter-annual variability in the snowpack in this region of the Pyrenees because of its marked sensitivity to climatic conditions. Although the basin is small and quite homogeneous, snowpack seasonality and inter-annual evolution of the snowpack varied in each HRU. Snow accumulation change in relation to temperature change was approximately 20% for every 1 °C, and the duration of the snowpack was reduced by 20–30 days per °C. Melting rates decreased with increased temperature, and wind redistribution of snow was higher with decreased temperature. The magnitude and sign of changes in precipitation may markedly affect the response of the snowpack to changes in temperature. There was a non-linear response of snow to individual and combined changes in temperature and precipitation, with respect to both the magnitude and sign of the change. This was a consequence of the complex interactions among climate, topography and blowing snow in the study basin. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.