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Environmental Research

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Atmospheric sciences, Climate change, Snow -- Rocky Mountains


The vast majority of surface water resources in the semi-arid western United States start as winter snowpack. Solar radiation is a primary driver of snowmelt, making snowpack water resources especially sensitive to even small increases in concentrations of light absorbing particles such as mineral dust and combustion-related black carbon (BC). Here we show, using fresh snow measurements and snowpack modeling at 51 widely distributed sites in the Rocky Mountain region, that BC dominated impurity-driven radiative forcing in 2018. BC contributed three times more radiative forcing on average than dust, and up to 17 times more at individual locations. Evaluation of 2015 to 2018 archived samples from most of the same sites yielded similar results. These findings, together with long-term observations of atmospheric concentrations and model studies, indicate that BC rather than dust has dominated radiative forcing by light absorbing impurities on snow for decades, indicating that mitigation strategies to reduce radiative forcing on headwater snow-water resources would need to focus on reducing winter and spring BC emissions.


© 2022 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd.

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