Sensitivity of Mountain Snowpacks


January  19 (Tuesday), 6 p.m., Teton Co. Library Auditorium –Open to Public. Presentation: “The sensitivity of mountain snowpacks: taking the pulse of a warming landscape”. Presented by Sarah Godsey, Idaho State University.

A majority of scientists across the globe are convinced that there are changes underway in our climate: that our earth has warmed and continues to slowly warm. Warmer winter temperatures can impact snowfall: precipitation that historically has fallen as snow may fall as rain if temperatures warm enough. We rely on mountain snowpacks to naturally store water and release in spring and summer during melt. Given the importance of winter snows for not only our Jackson Hole ski industry, but also to millions who depend on gradual snow melt to feed downstream irrigation & reservoirs, the issue is important far from the mountains that surround us here in Wyoming.

Dr. Sarah Godsey studies the impact of global warming on the snowpacks that form each winter around and above us, locally and nationally.  What happens to low flows in snow-dominated catchments if rain starts to fall instead of snow? A shift in precipitation from snow to rain is likely in low-elevation mountains, including parts of California’s Sierra Nevada, where winter temperatures are very near freezing. Rain-on-snow events can lead to winter flooding, and more winter runoff can lead to lower flows in summer because flows are no longer supplemented by melt. If flows become too low, then some tributaries or stream reaches risk drying up. We’ll examine how snowpacks and streamflow respond to warming, which watersheds are the most sensitive and which are the most resilient.

This presentation will discuss the results of research from Idaho, to California, to Alaska and beyond – and what the impact of a warming landscape may be on snow covered peaks and the areas far downstream from them.