CR 46:171-183 (2011)  -  DOI:

Observed changes in snow depth and number of snow days in the eastern and central Tibetan Plateau

Qinglong You1,2,3,4, Shichang Kang1,5,*, Guoyu Ren2, Klaus Fraedrich3, Nick Pepin6, Yuping Yan2, Lijuan Ma2

1Laboratory of Tibetan Environment Changes and Land Surface Processes, Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Beijing 100085, China
2Laboratory for Climate Studies, National Climate Center, China Meteorological Administration (CMA), Beijing 100081, China
3Meteorological Institute, KlimaCampus, University of Hamburg, Hamburg 21044, Germany
4Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
5State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Science, CAS, Lanzhou 730000, China
6Department of Geography, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth PO1 3HE, UK
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: The Tibetan Plateau (TP) has the largest area of snow in the mid-latitude regions, and is strongly affected by the climate change. We examine the temporal variability of winter snow depth and number of days of snow cover at 69 Chinese Meteorological Administration stations above 2000 m a.s.l. in the eastern and central TP during 1961–2005. Snow depth is positively correlated with the number of snow days (R = 0.89, p < 0.0001). Regional mean winter (DJF) depth and days of snow cover increase at rates of 0.32 mm decade–1 and 0.40 d decade–1 from 1961 to 1990, but at rates of –1.80 mm decade–1 and –1.59 d decade–1 (i.e. decrease) between 1991 and 2005. The long term trends are weakly positive, but unrepresentative of shorter time periods. Thus snow depth and cover change depends on the timescale examined and cannot be attributed solely to increased greenhouse gas forcing. The decreasing snow depth in recent years will influence hydrological processes and water resources on the plateau and downstream. Both snow depth and duration have positive correlations with the winter Arctic Oscillation/North Atlantic Oscillation (AO/NAO) index and Niño-3 region (5°N–5°S, 150°W–90°W) sea surface temperature (SST). During high AO/NAO index years, both a deeper India–Burma trough and an intensified cyclonic circulation near Lake Baikal bring more snowfall to the TP, consistent with a higher water vapor flux. The opposite is true in low AO/NAO years. Thus secular changes of snow depth and duration in the TP are not independent of changes in the macro-scale atmospheric circulation.

KEY WORDS: Snow depth · Snow days · Tibetan Plateau · Arctic Oscillation · North Atlantic Oscillation

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Cite this article as: You Q, Kang S, Ren G, Fraedrich K, Pepin N, Yan Y, Ma L (2011) Observed changes in snow depth and number of snow days in the eastern and central Tibetan Plateau. Clim Res 46:171-183.

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