Dust Deposition on Snow

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Red Dust Deposition on SnowWelcome to the Dust Deposition on Snow section of SDSG. Here you will find an assortment of information pertaining to the phenomenon of dust-on-snow. This is not a source of original material but rather a combination of excerpts from scientific and popular press articles as well as a portal to a plethora of valuable information.  None of the scientists mentioned are affiliated in any manner with SDSG.  Their work is merely being referenced.  Our goal is to provide a “one-stop-shop” for all relevant material dealing with dust and snow.  We emphasize information related to the area in which we are located, the Upper Gunnison River Basin.

Who are some of the leading scientists and institutions conducting research?

Dr. Thomas PainterJet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology/University of Utah

  • Email Dr. Painter at: Thomas.Painter at jpl.nasa.gov

Chris LandryCenter for Snow and Avalanche Studies (CSAS)

  • Email Landry at: clandry at snowstudies.org

Dr. Jeffrey DeemsColorado State University

  • Email Dr. Deems at: deems at nsidc.org

Dr. Richard Reynolds–U.S. Geological Survey

 

  • Email Dr. Reynolds at: rreynolds at usgs.gov

Dr. Jason NeffUniversity of Colorado at Boulder

  • Email Dr. Neff at: neffjc at colorado.edu

Dr. Heidi SteltzerFort Lewis College

  • Email Dr. Steltzer at: steltzer_h at fortlewis.edu

Dr. Jayne BelnapU.S. Geological Survey

  • Email Dr. Belnap at: jayne_belnap at usgs.gov

Dr. Corey LawrenceU.S. Geological Survey

  • Email Dr. Lawrence at: clawrence at usgs.gov

 

 

What are the dust events?

Dust deposition on the mountains of Colorado has received growing attention over the past several years. While these events are not a new phenomenon, they have only been extensively studied for the past 6-7 years. The issue is large plumes of dust that are carried predominantly from the Colorado Plateau region, an area spanning the Four Corners region of the western United States, and deposited onto the mountain ranges throughout the state.

Colorado Plateau Region

The Colorado Plateau Region–Credit to NPS.gov

While the origins of the dust storms have been determined, the exact cause or causes have not been scientifically identified. These dust events not only cause a decrease in the aesthetically pleasing views of the Colorado landscape, but they have distressing implications to the ecosystems, economies, and social aspects of the affected areas.

Why is the dust an issue?

The deposited dust drastically reduces the albedo, or reflectivity, of the snow. As a result, the snow absorbs more of the incoming solar radiation from the sun and thus melts quicker and sooner than a clean snowpack. This creates problems for the cities, industries, individuals, plants, and animals that rely on a slow-melting snowpack to provide them with water throughout the dry summer months. Instead, water is coming much sooner and more abundant than water managers are accustomed to. Although the dust storms are not the only contributing factor to earlier snowmelt, they are certainly a major catalyst for the snow to melt sooner.

The dust events exacerbate a growing problem in the western United States, earlier and more rapid snowmelt. This has implications for the concept of sustainability because it puts growing stress on the environment and people that rely on the water for a plethora of reasons.

Number of Dust Events from 2003-2009

Recorded dust events 2003-2009–Taken from the presentation “Where Deserts and Mountains Collide–The Implications of Accelerated Snowmelt by Disturbed Desert Dust” by Dr. Tom Painter

For example, farmers rely on continuous water flows throughout the summer to irrigate their crops. Ranchers depend on the availability of water to keep their animals healthy and hydrated.  Ski areas need a clean, aesthetically pleasing spring snowpack on which people can ski.  With the severity and frequency of dust events increasing during the past several years, the ability for future water users to meet their needs during the arid summer months may be more of an issue than once expected. In fact, the number of dust storms has steadily increased since they have been monitored. Left is a graph displaying the number of dust events since 2003.

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Text Box: Figure 1 displays the reflective difference between clean and dirty (dust-laden) snow in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado [courtesy of Painter et al., 2007] Below are two images (Figure 2) displaying the San Juan Mountains.The first image was taken on April 12, 2005, after four dust events, via the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite.The second image was taken on April 12, 2006, after eight dust events, via MODIS on NASA’s Terra satellite.Comparing the two images, one can see evidence the snowpack in 2006, which had double the amount of dust events, had a much smaller spatial extent than at the same time in 2005.The abundance of dust as well as weather conditions (e.g. minimal cloud cover) allowed the snowpack to receive ample sunlight and melt at a quicker pace[1].

3 Responses to “Dust Deposition on Snow”

  1. Luke says:

    this is really great work, Dominic.

    You should be very proud of it.

    Luke

  2. Kelli says:

    Fantastic work.

  3. Dust Guy says:

    Very informative and well executed website on the dusty snow issue. The scenario is laid out in a logical manner and is easy to follow and comprehend. Well done!