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A mechanism for regional variations in snowpack melt under rising temperature


As the planet warms, mountain snowpack is expected to melt progressively earlier each spring. However, analysis of measurements in the western United States shows that the change in the date when snowpack disappears is not uniform: for 1 °C of warming, snowpack disappears 30 days earlier in some regions, whereas there is almost no change in others. Here we present an idealized physical model that simulates the timing of snowpack melt under changing temperature and use it to show that this observed disparity in the sensitivity of snowpack disappearance to warming results from a mechanism related to the sinusoidal shape of the annual cycle of temperature. Applying this model globally, we show that under uniform warming the timing of snowpack disappearance will change most rapidly in coastal regions, the Arctic, the western United States, Central Europe and South America, with much smaller changes in the northern interiors of North America and Eurasia.

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Fig. 1: Examples of observed snowpack for two water years.
Fig. 2: Maps of the sensitivity of the timing of snowpack date of disappearance to temperature.
Fig. 3: Comparisons of ∂ζ/∂T0 calculated from SNOTEL observations and reanalysis and from the VIC model.
Fig. 4: Global estimates of ∂ζ/∂T0.

Data availability

SNOTEL data are available from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, NARR output is available from the National Centers for Environmental Information, The global reanalysis data used here are available from the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office,

Code availability

Code for the VIC model is available at: Code used to run the VIC model, analyse model output and observations and generate the plots can be found at


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Funding for this work was provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Program Office grant NA17OAR4310163 to the University of California, and the National Science Foundation grant OPP-1643445. These data and related items of information have not been formally disseminated by NOAA and do not represent any agency determination, view or policy.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



A.E. conceived the study, conducted the observational analysis and designed the numerical simulations. I.E. and A.E. developed the idealized model. A.E. and I.E analysed all results and wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Amato Evan.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review informationNature Climate Change thanks Nicholas Siler, Xubin Zeng and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Schematic illustrating the effect of changes in T0 and T1 on ∂ζ/∂T0 for three scenarios.

Shown are three schematics representing typical annual cycles of temperature (leftmost plots) for a warm coastal region (top), region in the interior of a continent where the annual mean temperature is close to 0 C (middle), and a cold coastal region (bottom). Blue and red hatching indicates periods where T < 0 or T > 0, respectively. The rightmost plots are the same annual cycles, but for a 1 C increase in annual mean temperature. At far right is the resultant value of ∂ζ/∂T0.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–6.

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Evan, A., Eisenman, I. A mechanism for regional variations in snowpack melt under rising temperature. Nat. Clim. Chang. 11, 326–330 (2021).

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