AbstractThe character and causes of elevation-dependent warming (EDW) of surface temperatures are examined in a suite of high-resolution ( km) regional climate model (RCM) simulations of climate change over the Rocky Mountains using the Weather Research and Forecasting Model. A clear EDW signal is found over the region, with warming enhanced in certain elevation bands by as much as 2°C. During some months warming maximizes at middle elevations, whereas during others it increases monotonically with elevation or is nearly independent of elevation. Simulated EDW is primarily caused by the snow albedo feedback (SAF). Warming maximizes in regions of maximum snow loss and albedo reduction. The role of the SAF is confirmed by sensitivity experiments wherein the SAF is artificially suppressed. The elevation dependence of free-tropospheric warming appears to play a secondary role in shaping EDW. No evidence is found for a contribution from elevation-dependent water vapor feedbacks. Sensitivity experiments show that EDW depends strongly on certain aspects of RCM configuration. Simulations using 4- and 12-km horizontal grid spacings show similar EDW signals, but substantial differences are found when using a grid spacing of 36 km due to the influence of terrain resolution on snow cover and the SAF. Simulations using the Noah and Noah-MP land surface models (LSMs) exhibit large differences in EDW. These are caused by differences between LSMs in their representations of midelevation snow extent and in their parameterization of subpixel fractional snow cover. These lead to albedo differences that act to modulate the simulated SAF and its effect on EDW.
Journal of Climate – American Meteorological Society
Published: Mar 17, 2018
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