Land–at­mo­sphere in­ter­ac­tions in sub-po­lar and alpine cli­mates in the COR­DEX flag­ship pi­lot study Land Use and Cli­mate Across Scales (LU­CAS) mod­els – Part 1: Eval­u­ation of the snow-al­bedo ef­fect

Seasonal snow cover plays a major role in the climate system of the Northern Hemisphere via its effect on land surface albedo and fluxes. In climate models the parameterization of interactions between snow and atmosphere remains a source of uncertainty and biases in the representation of local and global climate. Here, we evaluate the ability of an ensemble of regional climate models (RCMs) coupled with different land surface models to simulate snow–atmosphere interactions over Europe in winter and spring. We use a previously defined index, the snow-albedo sensitivity index (SASI), to quantify the radiative forcing associated with snow cover anomalies. By comparing RCM-derived SASI values with SASI calculated from reanalyses and satellite retrievals, we show that an accurate simulation of snow cover is essential for correctly reproducing the observed forcing over middle and high latitudes in Europe. The choice of parameterizations, and primarily the choice of the land surface model, strongly influences the representation of SASI as it affects the ability of climate models to simulate snow cover accurately. The degree of agreement between the datasets differs between the accumulation and ablation periods, with the latter one presenting the greatest challenge for the RCMs. Given the dominant role of land surface processes in the simulation of snow cover during the ablation period, the results suggest that, during this time period, the choice of the land surface model is more critical for the representation of SASI than the atmospheric model.