Role of snow-albedo feedback in higher elevation warming over the Himalayas, Tibetan Plateau and Central Asia

Debjani Ghatak, Eric Sinsky, James Miller

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23 Scopus citations


Recent literature has shown that surface air temperature (SAT) in many high elevation regions, including the Tibetan Plateau (TP) has been increasing at a faster rate than at their lower elevation counterparts. We investigate projected future changes in SAT in the TP and the surrounding high elevation regions (between 25°-45°N and 50°-120°E) and the potential role snow-albedo feedback may have on amplified warming there. We use the Community Climate System Model version 4 (CCSM4) and Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) model which have different spatial resolutions as well as different climate sensitivities. We find that surface albedo (SA) decreases more at higher elevations than at lower elevations owing to the retreat of the 0 °C isotherm and the associated retreat of the snow line. Both models clearly show amplified warming over Central Asian mountains, the Himalayas, the Karakoram and Pamir during spring. Our results suggest that the decrease of SA and the associated increase in absorbed solar radiation (ASR) owing to the loss of snowpack play a significant role in triggering the warming over the same regions. Decreasing cloud cover in spring also contributes to an increase in ASR over some of these regions in CCSM4. Although the increase in SAT and the decrease in SA are greater in GFDL than CCSM4, the sensitivity of SAT to changes in SA is the same at the highest elevations for both models during spring; this suggests that the climate sensitivity between models may differ, in part, owing to their corresponding treatments of snow cover, snow melt and the associated snow/albedo feedback.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114008
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


  • CMIP5 global climate models
  • EOF
  • Tibetan Plateau
  • mountain
  • snow-albedo
  • the Himalayas
  • warming

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