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Abstract or Description

Across large regions of North America, warming global temperatures are expected to detrimentally reduce mountain snowpack accumulation and duration during the winter months. Mountain resorts are reliant on snowpack to generate a significant portion of their income through the ski industry. By 2100, experts have predicted that many alpine ski resorts could lose up to 70% of natural snow cover, leaving many resorts needing to turn to expensive, artificial snowmaking to supplement natural snowfall.

This study attempts to model the potential impact climate change will have on US ski resorts’ abilities to generate snowpack during the winter months in 2070 as compared to 2017. Several climatic variables are examined, such as changes in temperature and precipitation, along with physical variables such as elevation and aspect for the contiguous US, and several models were run with differentiating variable weightings to account for the uncertainty of climate modeling. Models resulted in each ski resort receiving a final score from 0 to 100 indicating the severity of the projected impact of climate change. Full variable model runs produced all positive scores, with average scores of roughly 35, indicating all resorts may experience a shift away from favorable skiing conditions, and that the average resort will experience a low-to-moderate impact from climate change. The reduced variable model run projected a higher average impact, with most resorts experiencing a moderate impact from climate change. Identifying resorts that may need to increase artificial snowmaking may indicate where clean snowmaking efforts should be focused.

About the Author

Greyson Butler is a senior Biology major at Colby College.

Source Data Note

Climate data for current (February, 2017) and future (February, 2070) snow thickness, snow flux, surface temperature, and atmospheric water vapor content were downloaded from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) at a resolution of 1 degree for the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) A1B emissions scenario. Climate data for current (2017) and future (2070) air temperature and precipitation during the coldest quarter of the year were downloaded from WorldClim at a resolution of 30 seconds for the IPCC RCP 4.5 emissions scenario under the CCSM4 climate model. Elevation data (GTOPO30) was acquired from the USGS. Data containing all the ski resorts in the contiguous US were downloaded from Trimble’s Data Marketplace.

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