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Synoptic variability of extreme snowfall in the St. Elias Mountains,Yukon, Canada
2015 (English)Conference paper, Poster (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Glaciers in the Wrangell and St. Elias Mountains (Alaska and Yukon) are presently experiencing some of thehighest regional wastage rates worldwide. While the effect of regional temperatures on glacier melt rates in thisregion has been investigated, comparatively little is known about how synoptic climate variations, for example inthe position and strength of the Aleutian Low, modulate snow accumulation on these glaciers. Such informationis needed to accurately forecast future wastage rates, glacier-water resource availability, and contributions tosea-level rise. Starting in 2000, automated weather stations (AWS) were established in the central St-EliasMountains (Yukon) at altitudes ranging from 1190 to 5400 m asl, to collect climatological data in support ofglaciological research. These data are the longest continuous year-round observations of surface climate everobtained from this vast glaciated region. Here we present an analysis of snowfall events in the icefields of theSt-Elias Mountains based on a decade-long series of AWS observations of snow accumulation. Specifically,we investigated the synoptic patterns and air mass trajectories associated with the largest snowfall events (> 25cm/12 hours) that occurred between 2002 and 2012. Nearly 80% of these events occurred during the cold season(October-March), and in 74 % of cases the precipitating air masses originated from the North Pacific south of50N. Zonal air mass advection over Alaska, or from the Bering Sea or the Arctic Ocean, was comparativelyrare (20%). Somewhat counter-intuitively, dominant surface winds in the St. Elias Mountains during highsnowfall events were predominantly easterly, probably due to boundary-layer frictional drag and topographicfunneling effects. Composite maps of sea-level pressure and 700 mb winds reveal that intense snowfall eventsbetween 2002 and 2012 were associated with synoptic situations characterized by a split, eastwardly-shifted orlongitudinally-stretched Aleutian Low (AL) having an easternmost node near the Kenai Peninsula, conditionsthat drove a strong southwesterly upper airstream across the Gulf of Alaska towards the coast. Situations with asingle-node, westerly-shifted AL were comparatively rare. The spatial configuration of the synoptic AL pressurepattern appears to play a greater role in determining snowfall amount in the central St. Elias Mountains than dopressure anomalies within the AL. The estimated snowfall gradient from coastal Alaska to the central St. EliasMountains during intense snowfall events averaged +2.0 0.7 mm/km (SWE), while the continental-side gradientfrom the mountains towards the Yukon plateau averaged -3.3 0.9 mm/km (SWE). The findings presented herecan better constrain the climatic interpretation of long proxy records of snow accumulation variations developedfrom glacier cores drilled in the St. Elias Mountains or nearby regions.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
, Geophysical Research Abstracts, EGU2015-765
Keyword [en]
Snowfall, moutains, glaciers, climate, synoptic meterology
National Category
Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences
Research subject
Earth Science with specialization in Physical Geography
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-247886OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-247886DiVA: diva2:797713
European Geophysical Union Assembly 2015
Available from: 2015-03-24 Created: 2015-03-24 Last updated: 2016-09-27

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Zdanowicz, Christian M.
Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences

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