Possible Increase of Vegetation Exposure to Spring Frost under Climate Change in Switzerland

Authors: Ondřej Lhotka and Stefan Brönnimann
Journal: Atmosphere
Year: 2020

We assessed future changes in spring frost risk for the Aare river catchment that comprises the Swiss Plateau, the most important agricultural region of Switzerland. An ensemble of 15 bias-corrected regional climate model (RCM) simulations from the EXAR data set forced by the RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5 concentration pathways were analysed for two future periods. Correlating actual meteorological observations and Swiss phenological spring index, we proposed and tested an RCM-compatible methodology (based on temperature data only) for estimating a start of spring and severity of frost events. In the historical climate, a significant advancement in start of spring was observed and frost events were more frequent in those years in which spring started sooner. In 2021–2050, spring is projected to start eight (twelve) days earlier, considering the RCP 4.5 (8.5) scenario. Substantial changes were simulated for the 2070–2099 period under RCP 8.5, when the total severity of frost events was projected to be increased by a factor of 2.1 compared to the historical climate. The study revealed the possible future increase of vegetation exposure to spring frost in Switzerland and that this phenomenon is noticeable even in the near future under the ‘low concentration’ RCP 4.5 scenario.