Dust Deposition on Snow
Welcome 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 Painter—Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology/University of Utah
- Email Dr. Painter at: Thomas.Painter at jpl.nasa.gov
Chris Landry—Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies (CSAS)
- Email Landry at: clandry at snowstudies.org
Dr. Jeffrey Deems—Colorado State University
- Email Dr. Deems at:
Dr. Richard Reynolds–U.S. Geological Survey
- Email Dr. Reynolds at:
Dr. Jason Neff—University of Colorado at Boulder
- Email Dr. Neff at:
Dr. Heidi Steltzer—Fort Lewis College
- Email Dr. Steltzer at: steltzer_h at fortlewis.edu
Dr. Jayne Belnap—U.S. Geological Survey
- Email Dr. Belnap at:
Dr. Corey Lawrence—U.S. Geological Survey
- Email Dr. Lawrence at:
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.
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.
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.