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Snow variability in the Swiss Alps 1864–2009

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ABSTRACT

We present a climate analysis of nine unique Swiss Alpine new snow series that have been newly digitized. The stations cover different altitudes (450–1860 m asl) and all time series cover more than 100 years (one from 1864 to 2009). In addition, data from 71 stations for the last 50–80 years for new snow and snow depth are analysed to get a more complete picture of the Swiss Alpine snow variability. Important snow climate indicators such as new snow sums (NSS), maximum new snow (MAXNS) and days with snowfall (DWSF) are calculated and variability and trends analysed. Series of days with snow pack (DWSP) ≥ 1 cm are reconstructed with useful quality for six stations using the daily new snow, local temperature and precipitation data. Our results reveal large decadal variability with phases of low and high values for NSS, DWSF and DWSP. For most stations NSS, DWSF and DWSP show the lowest values recorded and unprecedented negative trends in the late 1980s and 1990s. For MAXNS, however, no clear trends and smaller decadal variability are found but very large MAXNS values (>60 cm) are missing since the year 2000. The fraction of NSS and DWSP in different seasons (autumn, winter and spring) has changed only slightly over the ∼150 year record. Some decreases most likely attributable to temperature changes in the last 50 years are found for spring, especially for NSS at low stations. Both the NSS and DWSP snow indicators show a trend reversal in most recent years (since 2000), especially at low and medium altitudes. This is consistent with the recent ‘plateauing’ (i.e. slight relative decrease) of mean winter temperature in Switzerland and illustrates how important decadal variability is in understanding the trends in key snow indicators.

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