Cascade snowpack decline? Weather patterns – not global warming

Man made global warming gets blamed for a lot of things, but often when you look beyond the rhetoric that surrounds such blame, you find simpler answers, such as changes in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

Mount Shuksan, in the Cascades photo by: Matt Leber

A new study from the University of Washington indicates that climate change may not be the reason snowpack is shrinking in the Cascade Mountains. The finding is in contrast with science and policy that have dominated the discussion of snowpack, flood, and water resources. KUOW’s Phyllis Fletcher has more.

THE NEW STUDY IS AUTHORED BY SEVERAL ATMOSPHERIC SCIENTISTS, INCLUDING KUOW REGULAR CLIFF MASS. MASS SAYS THE AMOUNT OF SNOWPACK HAS NOT CHANGED APPRECIABLY IN THE LAST 30 YEARS. HE AND HIS COLLEAGUES ARGUE THAT MUCH OF THE CHANGE IN THE LAST CENTURY COULD BE ATTRIBUTED TO A WEATHER PATTERN THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH GLOBAL WARMING CAUSED BY HUMAN ACTIVITY.

Read complete interview here on the radio station website.

You may also find this report from Nichols College, complete with graphs and tables, interesting.

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springwaterkate

“TEN YEARS AGO IT WAS EASY TO FIND SCIENTIFIC REPORTS WITH CONFIDENT CLAIMS THAT LINKED A SHRINKING SNOWPACK IN THE NORTHWEST TO GLOBAL WARMING. YOU COULD EVEN FIND POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS IN SOME OF THEM. TODAY THE DISCUSSION IS MORE NUANCED, AND SCIENTISTS TRY TO KEEP POLICY OUT OF THEIR PAPERS.”
Change is in the air….How Refreshing! 🙂

evanjones

But walk on the sidewalk. You’re wearing down the earth.

[…] Cascade snowpack decline? Weather patterns not global warming By wattsupwiththat Man made global warming gets blamed for a lot of things, but often when you look beyond the rhetoric that surrounds such blame, you find simpler answers, such as changes in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. The Cascades … Watts Up With That? – http://wattsupwiththat.wordpress.com […]

Leon Brozyna

The elastic in the AGW clothing line, where one size fits all, seems to be fraying. Climate is far too complicated to ascribe all changes to any single factor, such as CO2. Whie this sounds like a better, more neutral study, there’s still a huge way to go. Unfortunately, science appears to be in love with this simple explanation for climate change. Just today, Science Daily is carrying a story about the Greenland ice cap:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080827163818.htm
Using computer models (here we go again) they explain that three million years ago, Greenland was mostly ice free and the only possible explanation is that CO2 levels dropping helped bring about its glaciation. How about the climate got colder and as glaciation began CO2 was absorbed by the oceans?
Q: When will science fall out of love with CO2 as the principle driver of climate?
A: When funding that promotes that thesis dries up; which means, since it’s coming from the gov’t, never.

justcre4tiv3

There’s always more than one cause to one effect.

D. Quist

http://www.komonews.com/news/27587449.html
http://www.komonews.com/news/27519099.html
PDO! DAMN PDO!
Someune could tell them thar weathermen (sorry Anthony) about them PDOs!?!
That way we all would be aware, here in the northwest about possible deadly condition in the mountains in August.

deadwood

Leon – when they retire (or are “retired”).

Giselle

But isnt the ice melting in a lot of other places as well other than just the Cascade mountains..?
Ice melts only when heat increases right..?
http://4mgiselle.wordpress.com

Jerker Andersson

Giselle (01:57:17) :
“Ice melts only when heat increases right..?”
Yes and no. Glaciers do not change size only due to changes in temperature. There is sublimation and decreased precipitation as a cause for shrinking glaciers or snowcover also.
Just check the ice cubes in your freezer and how they shrink in size over time allthough the temperature is -18C in there.

Mike Bryant

Ice always melts. Even during the ice ages the southernmost parts of the glaciers melt. Ice will only stop melting when the earth is a solid block of ice, and the sun has winked out. Then, maybe, we will stop worrying about the ice.

Giselle: Temperature isn’t the only consideration. For example, glaciers recede at altitudes where the temperature never rises above freezing.
The rates at which ice and snow melt vary due to many reasons. These include changes in albedo (reflectivity), and this can vary due to natural influences such as snow algae (red snow) or due to anthropogenic influences such as black soot. Solar irradiance varies naturally, and this impacts many factors. There’s also a process called ablation, in which solar irradiance causes the ice to flash directly to steam, bypassing the liquid phase. Snowfall also varies due to natural oscillations in sea surface temperature, such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. If it snows less but the natural rate of decline in snowpack or ice remains constant, the glaciers would recede.
Hope that helps.

Jeff Wiita

Shout out to deadwood

Jeff Wiita

Sorry Leon. Shout out to you, too.

The conclusions of http://www.nichols.edu/departments/glacier/accum.html notes:
Making accurate summer streamflow estimates is impossible without data from glacier sites.
Missing context includes notes that precip at Diablo Dam (I bicycled past it in 1974!) correlates well with “SWE” which I deduce is “Snowpack Water Equivalent”.
I’ve heard essentially nothing about glacial growth this season in the Cascades, Glacier Natl Park, or anywhere else, for that matter. Would a “quick and easy” measurement of that be to take the difference of precip over the watershed (glaciershed?) and runoff, with adjustments for evaporation, transpiration, etc?
So how are the glaciers doing anyway? We don’t have any in New Hampshire for me to look at. Our snowpack took quite a while to melt, but with record snowfall in the area that was no surprise.

deadwood

Giselle:
Glaciers melt and glaciers grow, it depends on where they are and on what time of year one measures. In the Cascade Mountains of western North America, some glaciers are melting more than they are growing. These are in the majority and make the news as signs of global warming. In fact this has been occurring at a relatively steady rate since the late 1800’s, a half century before humans began contributing significant CO2 to atmosphere.
In recent years some scientists have reported that short term trends of snow pack in Cascade Mountains indicate that global warming is to blame for less snow falling and earlier melting of what falls. They have further claimed that this trend is alarming and will lead to water shortages in the near future.
The recent studies by well respected climate scientists at the University of Washington have revealed that earlier claims were based on a selective review of the data available (looking only at post 1950 data).
By looking at all the data available, particularly to data sets encompassing an entire cycle of the PDO, it can be demonstrated that snow pack is cyclical with greater quantities associated with cold phases of the PDO and lesser quantities associated with warm phases of the PDO. It additionally shows that there is no discernible trend either up or down.
Allegations of cherry picking of snow pack data have been the subject of several news articles over the past few years. It all started when the Assistant State Climatologist (of Washington State) pointed out in emails to academic colleagues that the State Climatologist was ignoring the long term data in favor of the more alarming trends that can be reported from post 1950 data.
The alarming data was used by local and state politicians to support calls for a host of climate policies and the Assistant Climatologist was fired (he still kept his academic job). Millions of state and local tax dollars have been spent as a result of these claims. The claims are still be used by the politicians to drum up support for climate spending.
So far no one is calling for firing the State Climatologist. He has not apologized either.

Peter Melia

Sometimes I see things which are completely at variance with what you are saying, such as this one from today’s Spiegel.
Could you please clarify the matter?
Thanks
brgds
Peter Melia
http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,574815,00.html

Pamela Gray

Giselle, do you have web addresses for snowpack data sites? It’s better to follow the data and decide for yourself than depend on the media reports of disappearing snow. Last year, snow and glaciers piled up high. And it hasn’t melted off. There is still left over stuff that will be added to this winter. Check out the data for yourself and stay away from “If it bleeds, it leads” media stories.

Bill Marsh

Giselle,
Not necessarily. Land use changes can have severe effects on snow pack. An example is Mt Kilimanjaro, used as an example of egregious global warming in Al Gore’s movie. The snow pack is retreating, but not because of ‘increasing temperatures. It is retreating because of deforestation at the base of the mountain that reduced the amount of water in the air reaching the mountain so the snow pack is no longer being ‘renewed’ as it once was.

Jeff Alberts

Sooo, if the snowpack in the Cascades hasn’t changed appreciably in the last 30 years, why the need for a study as to why it was declining, when it wasn’t declining???

If the positive PDO is driving warming, so officially, when did the PDO go negative?
And when would be we be seeing the effects (in terms of sea ice recovering to pre 1980 summer levels?
And when would we expect winter temps return to levels of the 60’s, 70s in the Nothern US? (In Vermont we would have days and weeks that the temps struggled to get out of the teens during the day and then plunged into the teens and 20;s below 0 F at night-that has not happened for a decade or so).
What I;m getting a is I’m reading a lot of how cold it’s going to be (PDO, sunspots, volcanoes). OK-so when?

Pamela Gray

Current (as of August 28th) Oregon snow precipitation totals averages out to be mostly above the historical average (1960’s to 90’s) for each snowpack area.
ftp://ftp.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/data/snow/update/or.txt

Bruce Cobb

But isnt the ice melting in a lot of other places as well other than just the Cascade mountains..? Yes, melting in some places, increasing in others.
Nothing to be alarmed about. The more you learn about our climate, the more fascinating it becomes. Keep reading, and investigating – that is the key.
Ice melts only when heat increases right..? No. It melts for many different reasons.

An Inquirer

Anthony,
Likely, it is time for another thread on the Arctic ice. I believe that it is fair to say that melt levels in the last few weeks have exceeded the hopes of skeptics. Given past threads on this subject, I think it would be balanced to acknowledge this development.

Stevie B

Anthony,
This entry made me think of this…
I noticed an article on Foxnews’ website under SciTech talking about Ice levels plummeting and being second lowest “since record keeping began” (satellites). Anyway we could get an entry on this?

Jack Simmons

One has to wonder what the Arctic ice coverage was while the Vikings were raising cattle on Greenland.
And what did the Polar bears do to survive that time period?
By the way, spoke with a hunter/guide type last January about what was going on up in the Hudson Bay area. He has been up there for about 27 years. I asked what has changed.
“Ice comes off earlier in the Spring. Returns later in the Fall. Polar bears coming inland to feed on caribou.”
So, the Polar bear is adaptable enough to try some turf food when the shushi bars shut down?
Bears are nothing if not adaptable.

i think more causes make the problem and not only one. but it could be, im not a scientist though. Keep it coming.
Regards,
Bob

Bill Marsh

Gibsho,
PDO is supposed to have flipped in Autumn last year. The cooler waters off the North West coast are the indicator.
Climate is a complex, non-linear, chaotic system, and, if you don’t know the exact conditions of ALL the processes that affect it, you cannot predict its future state (out of curiosity are there any linear chaotic systems?). For this reason no one can give you any idea of either the magnitude or duration of any cooling associated with solar minima or PDO, AMO, SO, or any other ‘cycle’.
I think that overall we will experience cooling, but I can’t say how much or how long.

KW

Man I know I should have gone to UW instead of Utah…
Grr.
I wanna study the PDO!
That is what I am most certain of…CO2 is, was, and never will be a driver of climate.

Tom in Florida

Slightly OT but we have a great natural experiment materializing in the Atlantic and Carribean. Two tropical storms, both over warm water but with different weather patterns effecting them. If warm waters were the major driving force for hurricane intensity, both these storms should be about the same. We shall see. Current forecasts and models show Gustav to reach Cat3 but not so with Hanna which has some sheer to deal with along with the influence of Gustav in a few days.

Patrick Henry

Inquirer,
CT shows a 15% increase in sea ice over last year, a far cry from the NSIDC predictions of a 15% decline. Perhaps you meant to say that “melt has failed to meet the hopes of Arctic alarmists?”
http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/current.365.jpg
http://nsidc.org/images/arcticseaicenews/200805_Figure4.png

Austin

Tom,
Its not warm water, but heat potential that provides the basis for these storms.
The water this year is not as deeply warm as years’ past.

The brave BBC also just issued a alarm:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7585645.stm
No mention that, because of last year’s “record” low, this year’s low was likely to be close to a “record” also. Nope, just the usual guilt trip. Bad monkey. Slap. Pay here.
Gibsho.
Don’t fret. The cold is coming and the relatively benign 0.7C temp rise we have been “suffering” will soon be a distant memory. Our children will inhabit a vastly colder world than we do and will think us insane that we ever “worried” about anything less than a 7.0C increase in global mean temps.
Before anyone champs at the bit about the 7 degrees, I just picked it in the interest of balance (0.7 – 7.0) and harmony – two things that most scientists disregard, because it doesn’t pay the bills or because they never venture out from their air-conditioned labs, or whatever.
My point; I am nearly 60 and all my life I have noticed that in winter, on a cloudy day as the sun breaks through, the back of my hand is pleasantly warmed, yet in summer, on a cloudy day as the sun breaks through, that same hand is significantly hotter (all other things being equal – length of exposure, existing tan[skin albedo if you like], latitude [many years on the deck of a salvage boat], wind speed, etc) but we are assured that solar insolation varies by fractions of a degree. My real world observation leads me to beg to differ.

An Inquirer

Patrick Henry:
Fair comment — in fact, I smiled when I read it. At the same time, I believe that my comment about skeptics is also fair.

Bill Marsh

An Inquirer (07:52:47) :
“Anthony,
Likely, it is time for another thread on the Arctic ice. I believe that it is fair to say that melt levels in the last few weeks have exceeded the hopes of skeptics. Given past threads on this subject, I think it would be balanced to acknowledge this development.”
Interestingly enough there appears to be a growing divergence between Cryosphere and NSIDC. Cryosphere is showing an increase in Arctic basin ice extent over the last week or so, not a decrease. the only area in Cyrosphere showing ice decrease (and it is significant decrease) is the East Siberia area, all others are stable to increasing. That does not seem to reflect a pattern caused by increasing temps, but one due to ocean currents.
http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/recent365.anom.region.1.html

Leon Brozyna

Here you go with a quote from the latest story in ICECAP about the current Arctic melt ( see http://icecap.us/images/uploads/ARCTIC_ICE_IN_THE_NEWS.pdf for more info):
“One prominent researcher, Igor Polyakov at the University of Fairbanks, Alaska, points out that pulses of unusually warm water have been entering the Arctic Ocean from the Atlantic, which several years later are seen in the ocean north of Siberia. These pulses of water are helping to heat the upper Arctic Ocean, contributing to summer ice melt and helping to reduce winter ice growth. Another scientist, Koji Shimada of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, reports evidence of changes in ocean circulation in the Pacific side of the Arctic Ocean. Through a complex interaction with declining sea ice, warm water entering the Arctic Ocean through Bering Strait in summer is being shunted from the Alaskan coast into the Arctic Ocean, where it fosters further ice loss. Many questions still remain to be answered, but these changes in ocean circulation may be important keys for understanding the observed loss of Arctic sea ice.”

Tom in Florida (09:38:41) :

Slightly OT but we have a great natural experiment materializing in the Atlantic and Carribean. Two tropical storms, both over warm water but with different weather patterns effecting [affecting!] them. If warm waters were the major driving force for hurricane intensity, both these storms should be about the same.

The major components and how they impact things in my mind:
Water temps – need about 80F water to have enough water vapor to drive things. Cold upper air temps can help if SSTs are a bit low.
Wind shear – This prevents storms form forming or can knock them down quicky. El Nino brings wind shear, when one forms mid-season it can nearly completely shut down the hurricane season. Pretty much trumps SST.
Good outflow – you need a high pressure ridge to help blow away the exhaust from the heat engine. Obviously closely coupled to windshear.
No dry air entrainment – if a hurricane sucks in some dry air it can weaken dramatically in a just a few hours. The dry air means less latent heat and that can cause convection to collapse. Storms seem to have trouble recovering after a god slug of dry air.
Cool mid air temps – The last couple of years had dust blowing off the Sahara for part of the season. Light shining on the dust warmed up the mid-atmosphere (reducing convection) and shaded the surface resulting in lower SST. A lot of storms last year barely got their act together before falling apart. In 2004/2005 a lot of storms that got nearly wiped out by shear came roaring back when conditions became more favorable.
I’ve probably missed a few things and skipped a few others, but these are certainly a good start.

Jeff Alberts

That is what I am most certain of…CO2 is, was, and never will be a driver of climate

Not while it remains a trace gas, no. It would have to reach concentrations equivalent to water vapor to be a major driver.
REPLY: Actyally no, it’s effect on longwave reflection (heat trapping) is logarithmic. After a certain point it no longer adds much. It’s a lot like salting your soup. Add a little salt, you can taste it, ad more, you can taste it, add a lot and now its too salty, add even more and you can’t taste the difference between “oversalted” and “saturated”. – Anthony

Bill Marsh

Anthony,
I prefer the window pane analogy to explain logrithmic effects.
If you take a clear pane of glass and paint it with one coat of paint, say 50% of the light is blocked, the next coat of paint will block 50% of the remaining light, the 3rd coat 50% of the remaining light, etc. The net effect is that even though the same amount of paint is being applied, the second coat only blocks 1/2 as much light as the first coat and so on.
Using the simplest calculation 5.35ln(C/Co) everytime you double CO2 you increase heat by ~ 3.7 w/m^2. So 20ppmv -> 40ppmv CO2 yields a 3.7w/m^2 increase, 40 -> 80 pp,v yields another 3.7 w/m^2 ….

MIke Sander

I live in Western Washington State and will be driving over the Cascade Mountains featured in the article. Possible snow level of 5000 feet early next week….not a lot of moisture in the expected air mass, so only a dusting of snow probably. But, hey, let’s get that 2008-09 snowpack started!

Quentin--The Uncomfortable Truth

[snip sorry Quentin – if you don’t see fit to post any of my comments on your blog, I see no reason to post yours. – Anthony]

M White

Just like to remind everybody that Lewis Gordon Pugh is scheduled to depart on the 30th of August from the Island of Spitsbergen in his bid to Kayak to the North Pole. “At the most northerly point reachable, his team will raise the flags of 192 nations of the world symbolizing the fact that every nation’s future will be determined by what happens in the Arctic.”
http://polardefenseproject.org/blog/?page_id=14

“Not while it remains a trace gas, no. It would have to reach concentrations equivalent to water vapor to be a major driver.”
This simply isn’t the case. The Earth would not be able to sustain life as we know it if it weren’t for this insignificant, unimportant gas we call carbon dioxide (among others). This article by Spencer Weart is perhaps one of the best resources outside of an atmospheric science textbook which illustrates the basic fact that although minute in quantity, CO2 plays an incredibly important role in establishing the overall temperature of the Earth.
Anthony and Bill have a good point, though, that the effect that CO2 has suffers from the law of diminishing returns (although the exact nature of that relationship might be a bit contentious). However, it’s an egregious error to imply that CO2 has little to no effect.

From the laddies website;
“We need an overarching, rigorous and enforceable law for protecting the Arctic. The laws which were set up 50 years ago to protect Antarctica, at the southern end of the world, provide a fantastic precedent.”
The moratorium on Antarctica is solely to protect its resources for the future (and, some claim, the future elite). The bragging about the size of “finds” down there petered out in the seventies, just prior to BP/Shell discovering truly massive quantities of oil off South Georgia and The Malvinas/Falkland islands. A short while ago the UK government (very quietly, immediately after Russia asked for territorial “rights” to parts of the Arctic seabed) applied for sovereignty over the continental plate those islands lie on so as to lay claim to the reserves.
The last “find” in Antarctica, that I remember being broadcast, was of a field of anthracite the size of Wales and 1/2 a mile thick – this was merely one of many, many coalfields claimed to exist. The figures that used to be bandied about – more bauxite than the total of the rest of the worlds’ reserves, more uranium, more copper, more silver and more oil, in a greater number of fields, than known reserves.
Shame about the 1.6 kilometre average (and growing) snow cover depth.

Bob Edelman

The Washington State Associate Climatologist got fired last year for exposing the fact that the snowpack is not declining. Here’s a Seattle Times story at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/PrintStory.pl?document_id=2003618979&zsection_id=2002111777&slug=warming15m&date=20070315 and a Heartland story at http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=21207.

Lee from WA

Bob Tisdale (03:51:15)

There’s also a process called ablation, in which solar irradiance causes the ice to flash directly to steam, bypassing the liquid phase.

Actually, ablation is just the opposite of accumulation – it just means reduction of glacier mass for whatever reason. One of those reasons can be sublimation, which is ice directly turning into vapor (gas) without melting. I’ve had an igloo sublimate away overnight on Mt. Baker in a cold, dry wind. It collapsed just after we got out of it in the morning.

Bruce Cobb

Just like to remind everybody that Lewis Gordon Pugh is scheduled to depart on the 30th of August from the Island of Spitsbergen in his bid to Kayak to the North Pole. I’ve been watching his site, and have noticed the departure date, which was the 27th got changed to the 29th, then 30th, with no explanation why. His last entry on the expedition journal was July 8th. Perhaps he’s getting cold feet.

Bruce Cobb

Oops, I meant Aug. 8th.

Kevin B

I carried out an interesting experiment on melting ice today. Well actually, I defrosted the fridge.
When the defrost process had been going for a while, I was able to slide out the large slabs of ice that had built up on the inside of the freezer compartment and dropped them in the kitchen sink.
After an hour or so of sitting in the sink, the ice slabs were still intact so I turned on the cold tap.
After a few minutes, the slabs of ice were gone and I could get on with the washing up.
Not quite a carefully constructed scientific expermint, but it does illustrate that water, (even cold water), is much better a melting ice than air, (even warm air).

Jeff Alberts

REPLY: Actyally no, it’s effect on longwave reflection (heat trapping) is logarithmic. After a certain point it no longer adds much. It’s a lot like salting your soup. Add a little salt, you can taste it, ad more, you can taste it, add a lot and now its too salty, add even more and you can’t taste the difference between “oversalted” and “saturated”. – Anthony

I understand that. Which is why it would have to be so abundant as to overwhelm water vapor in the same absorption bands. Even then we don’t know what would happen. But I understand your point.

MarkW

Shame about the 1.6 kilometre average (and growing) snow cover depth.
===========
Does make strip mining problematic.