In alpine areas, the accumulation and melting of snow controls the hydrological regime. Even in watersheds where glacier melt dominates, the snow pack strongly influences the stream-flow dynamics. Prognostic simulations of the response of the snow pack to climate change were conducted in a high alpine and half-glacierized basin in central Switzerland. The snow cover and glacier were simulated using a high-resolution alpine surface model. The simulations cover a reference period (1981–2007) and two predictions (2071–2100) where the measured records of temperature, precipitation and longwave radiation were modified using six regional climate model projections for two different emission scenarios of greenhouse gases. The results show that the snow season shortens by one month at the beginning of the winter and by one and a half months at the end of the season, compared to today. The maximum snow water equivalent decreases by 27% on average. The difference in the response of the snow pack to a change in climate between the emission scenarios is rather small. The most pronounced effects of a warming climate are simulated for the highest altitudes, where all snow completely melts during summer and no snow remains for glacier accumulation.
Keywords: glacier, global warming, modelling, snow cover, snow hydrology