Snow Cover and Climate Change in the Cairngorms National Park

Snow cover is a key aspect of what defines the character of the Cairngorms National Park (CNP). It underpins the ecology, hydrology and economy, which are all dependent on how much snow falls, and where and how long it stays.

In this summary assessment we compared historic temperature and precipitation data (1918-2018) with observed snow cover days (1969-2005) to identify how temperature affects snow days. We then modelled future snow cover days using the best available data generated by the UK Met Office to identify some possible trends for the Cairngorms National Park. 

Modelling snow cover based on climate projections is challenging, and we currently only have daily climate data projections for the high emissions scenario. However, our initial results show a reduction in snow cover as the observed warming trend continues and accelerates. Successful global efforts to reduce emissions may moderate this impact, whilst even higher emissions rates (e.g. due to ecosystem carbon releases) may further increase impacts.

Key findings
  • There has been an overall decline in observed snow cover in the Cairngorms National Park (1969-2005). This trend conforms to those seen across other mountain areas and the Arctic and is in keeping with the observed global warming trend.
  • There is a clear observed decrease in the number of days of snow cover at all elevation levels over the 35 winters between 1969/70 and 2004/05, with higher elevations having a larger proportional decrease.
  • In the near-term, our estimates indicate the potential for a continuation of snow cover at the current range of variation, but with a substantial decline from the 2040s. These findings are in line with results from the UK Meteorological Office and Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2019).