Observed snow depth trends in the European Alps 1971 to 2019

EGU General assembly (logo: CC BY-ND 4.0)

Contribution to the virtual conference vEGU21:

Observed snow depth trends in the European Alps 1971 to 2019

Download slides as PDF


The European Alps stretch over a range of climate zones, which affect the spatial distribution of snow. Previous analyses of station observations of snow were confined to regional analyses, which complicates comparisons between regions and makes Alpine wide conclusions questionable. Here, we present an Alpine wide analysis of snow depth from six Alpine countries: Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland; including altogether more than 2000 stations, of which more than 800 were used for the trend assessment. Using a principal component analysis and k-means clustering, we identified five main modes of variability and five regions, which match the climatic forcing zones: north & high Alpine, northeast, northwest, southeast, and south & high Alpine. Linear trends of monthly mean snow depth between 1971 and 2019 showed decreases in snow depth for most stations for November to May. The average trend among all stations for seasonal (November to May) mean snow depth was -8.4 % per decade, for seasonal maximum snow depth -5.6 % per decade, and for seasonal snow cover duration -5.6 % per decade. However, regional trends differed substantially after accounting for elevation, which challenges the notion of generalizing results from one region to another or to the whole Alps. This study presents an analysis of station snow depth series with the most comprehensive spatial coverage in the European Alps to date.