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Incorporating cold-air pooling into downscaled climate models increases potential refugia for snow-dependent species within the Sierra Nevada Ecoregion, CA

Released: 2014
Citation:
Curtis, JA, LE Flint, AL Flint, JD Lundquist, B Hudgens, EE Boydston, JK Young. 2014. Incorporating cold-air pooling into downscaled climate models increases potential refugia for snow-dependent species within the Sierra Nevada Ecoregion, CA. PLoS ONE 9(9): e106984. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0106984

We present a unique water-balance approach for modeling snowpack under historic, current and future climates throughout the Sierra Nevada Ecoregion. Our methodology uses a finer scale (270 m) than previous regional studies and incorporates cold-air pooling, an atmospheric process that sustains cooler temperatures in topographic depressions thereby mitigating snowmelt. Our results are intended to support management and conservation of snow-dependent species, which requires characterization of suitable habitat under current and future climates. We use the wolverine (Gulo gulo) as an example species and investigate potential habitat based on the depth and extent of spring snowpack within four National Park units with proposed wolverine reintroduction programs. Our estimates of change in spring snowpack conditions under current and future climates are consistent with recent studies that generally predict declining snowpack. However, model development at a finer scale and incorporation of cold-air pooling increased the persistence of April 1st snowpack. More specifically, incorporation of cold-air pooling into future climate projections increased April 1st snowpack by 6.5% when spatially averaged over the study region and the trajectory of declining April 1st snowpack reverses at mid-elevations where snow pack losses are mitigated by topographic shading and cold-air pooling. Under future climates with sustained or increased precipitation, our results indicate a high likelihood for the persistence of late spring snowpack at elevations above approximately 2,800 m and identify potential climate refugia sites for snow-dependent species at mid-elevations, where significant topographic shading and cold-air pooling potential exist.


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