Declining snowpack in the mountian west

As many who ski and recreate outdoors here this time of year can attest, the 2010/2011 winter has been a record year for snowfall throughout much of Colorado and the US mountain west.  But in an upcoming article in Science (, Greg Pederson of the University of Arizona examines a long-term set of tree ring sequences from across the region and asserts that this year’s spectacular snow is in fact an anomaly, and that the long-term snow trend is declining to a degree unprecedented over the last millennium.  For a quick synopsis, check out this write-up in the Times:

Snowpack has in fact been declining in recent decades, and a new U.S. Geological Survey-led study shows the decrease since the 1980s is more significant than at any other time in the past 1,000 years…

“You have a pretty severe early 20th century and especially a post-1980s decline that is really isn’t matched most anywhere in the paleo-climate record,” Pederson said.

Of course, the results are at least partially attributable to anthropogenic climate change. So for all of you out there still hitting A-Basin or skiing the backcountry, make the most of this season- ones this good will likely be fewer and farther between in the future…

PS – In case you were worried, no trees were harmed for the purposes of this study 🙂

To collect the data, scientists bored small holes into trees and extracted wood cores about the width of a pencil. They did this to at least 20 to 30 trees to build chronologies for each location.  “It doesn’t really hurt the tree at all; they seal that up pretty quick,” Pederson said.

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5 Responses to Declining snowpack in the mountian west

  1. rogerthesurf says:


    “After analyzing hundreds of thousands of tree rings, the researchers found only two instances of sustained low snowpack in the northern Rockies comparable to the 20th century from about 1300 to 1330 and about 1511 to 1530. However, those dips were not as severe as current declines.”

    Oh dear, those dates were during the little ice age. Does this study mean we are getting colder again?

    Right I have it! Anthropogenic CO2 causes Global Cooling right? Sorry warming! Someone please explain, I am confused here.



    • Paul says:

      Hi There,

      Looks like you guys have a lack of snow down there as well:

      • rogerthesurf says:


        I assume you are replying to my comment.

        First of all, even if the lack of snow on NZ skifields right now was a significant event, we would still have to be crazy to think it has anything to do with any type of climate trend, anthropogenic or otherwise.

        Secondly, I just happen to know a lot about skiing in New Zealand, and I can tell you that before snow making, the usual start date both in the South Island and Ruapehu in the north island (which a great uncle of mine helped pioneer), was some time in mid July.
        Anyway after snow making, only the bunny slopes could often be operational earlier.

        For example, I distinctly remember in the ’70’s, when I was sponsored for a racing event in late July/early August, having it cancelled because of lack of snow.

        Always, skiing by the end of May (Queens Birthday weekend), is a rarity and more newsworthy than the current lack of snow.
        So being local I don’t find this weather pattern in the least unusual.

        You may be interested that basically little or no climate temperateur average changes have been recorded in New Zealand.
        However there was some skulduggery perpetrated by an over enthusiastic warmist “scientist”, however he got fired and did not leave any records or adjustment schedule, although his figures appear in Australasia and IPCC reports.
        Consequently after some court action, the adjustments have been dropped and our government department has been working on some new ones.
        Truth is most records are a mess and it is probably impossible to decide what the temp averages here have been within an error of 1degree C

        And so how is the weather here 100 km from one of the skifields moaning about the lack of snow?
        For the record, it has been a ***** cold June with many frosts.



  2. John says:

    As a student of engineering, I’m probably not the most qualified to debate the finer points of this paleclimatology study (let alone your personal anecdotal evidence, and even though a quick glance at Wikipedia suggests a different range of LIA dates than you do?). All of the authors of this blog study biofuels in one aspect or another, and while reduction of CO2 emissions from the transport sector is obviously a main goal of biofuel development, other equally important goals include increasing domestic energy security and promoting rural economic development here in the US. I’m always curious what people such as yourself who are dismissive of climate change think about the other goals of biofuels and renewable energy in general? My understanding is that New Zealand has a pretty roust renewable electricity supply, though like us is a net petroleum exporter importer (but has not adopted a biofuel mandate). I wonder, do you see value in developing non fossil-fuel based domestic energy sources there, even it requires government support (either through R&D funding or economic incentives) to do so?

  3. rogerthesurf says:


    Even your Wikipedia page states that the LIA is often regarded as when the Atlantic Ice Pack started to grow and the Greenland Glaciers started to advance in about 1250 AD. In other words that is when the Medieval Warm Period was well into its decline.

    I am not a biofuel scientist, my expertise is in economics.
    From the economic point of view, to me it is very obvious the biofuel competes with the food supply. It does not take much brain power to understand that actually.

    Seeing as I do not subscribe to the unproven “Anthropogenic CO2 causes Global Warming” hypothesis on account of it being so easy to disprove as well as the fact that it is based on a number of somewhat tenuous correlations. (You studied statistics right?), therefore the only real reason to consider biofuel is when fossil fuel genuinely begins to run out.
    Should the change over be sponsored by government? Not on your nelly! Governments of any sort are careless with the tax payers money, both in my country and every other country. Witness Greece who is now paying for decades of tax payer funded election bribes.
    From the economist point of view, if a government has to use tax payers money to instigate anything, it is almost certain that it is not worth doing. If it is worth doing, you will have trouble keeping the investors away.

    When the real cost of fossil fuels increases enough to make alternatives viable, that is the time to think about alternatives.
    The main reason is that this will be most likely a relatively slow and progressive change, allowing the economy (and population) to adjust.

    I wrote this about it some time ago.

    “There are various estimates of the time left until fossil fuels run out, and I take a fairly jaundiced view of the estimates having been through two “oil shocks” in the ”70′s and ’80′s where we were told that it was running out already.

    However the current estimates are about 40 years for oil, 62 years for natural gas and 224 years for coal.

    If governments did nothing, and unfortunately governments have a way of exacerbating economic problems, (try reading Milton Friedman if you think that is too radical a statement), the price of fuel will rise steadily and I suspect converting coal to liquid fuel and gas will still be less expensive than any green technologies so far mooted, so the price will most likely rise and level out once this process becomes viable. (NB every rise in oil is currently reflected in just about every activity and product we consume)

    So we have at least 100 years to adjust to the rising price of energy”.

    I go on to point out that acceding to the IPCC CO2 emission reduction demands, puts us in a position ripe for cataclysmic economic collapse because the demand for a change over is not only premature but far to rapid for any economy to bear.

    This is not to say that there will be no hardship or radical change in our civilisation during a slow change over but hopefully it will not be catclysmic.
    New Zealand by the way, has basically exploited all the viable hydroelectric generation. Not only that but because of the long traveling distances here (yes I know that may surprise you) and the nonviability of public transport (excepting air), we do rely on our automobiles more than is really healthy hence the demand for imported fuel.



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