Anthropogenic Warming Impacts on California Snowpack During Drought

Project Summary

Understanding the role of anthropogenic climate change in California's recent five-year drought is important for future water resource management. Research suggests that high temperatures play a larger role in the drought's severity compared to low precipitation levels because a warmer climate leads to greater evapotranspiration and causes a larger fraction of precipitation to fall as rain instead of snow. This project establishes a high-resolution simulation of California's climate from 1981-2010 that serves as a baseline to compare future climate projections and measure change in temperature, precipitation, snowfall, snow cover, and other climatic variables relevant to water resources. Recent drought years are included in this simulation, and then a "detection and attribution" experiment is done to quantitatively understand the contribution of anthropogenic climate change to drought severity. The team then performs a "business-as-usual future warming" experiment to understand how conditions of the recent drought may evolve under climatic conditions expected by the end of the 21st century. A definitive understanding of the role of anthropogenic climate change in the recent drought informs the ongoing policy conversation about whether the recent drought is the "new normal," requiring new approaches to water resources management. Understanding how an analogous event may unfold in the future provides a scenario of extreme future drought that helps water managers plan for the future.

Research Team

Alex Hall
Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences, Physical Sciences

Neil Berg
Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences, Physical Sciences

Other Information of Interest

UCLA Center for Climate Science

Alex Hall, Climate Sensitivity Research Lounge

Additional support comes from the Metabolic Studio in connection wtih teh Annenberg Foundation, the National Science foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation

Image for project showing snow covered mountains


Award Year