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Aerosols are tiny particles, such as soot or dust, suspended in Earth's atmosphere. In addition to their impacts on air-quality, aerosols can block sunlight from reaching the Earth's surface. This image shows how much sunlight aerosols blocked from reaching the Earth's surface in 2006. Areas where aerosols let sunlight through are white, and areas where aerosols blocked sunlight from reaching the Earth are dark orange. Areas where data could not be collected appear in gray.
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Image Courtesy of Reto Stockli, NASA's Earth Observatory

Pollution Speeds up Snow Melt in Europe and Asia

Mark Flanner, a scientist who studies climate change, conducted a study that found that snow melts faster during the spring in Europe and Asia than in North America.

Flanner and his colleagues think that aerosols, which are tiny floating particles in the sky, are the cause of this. The countries in Europe and Asia produce high levels of black carbon and mineral dust, which are types of air pollution. These particles become aerosols in the atmosphere. Some aerosols reflect energy from the sun, which possibly cools the Earth's surface below. But black carbon and mineral dust tend to warm snow-covered surfaces by absorbing energy from the sun.

"While this research does not fully explain why springtime land temperatures and snow cover are changing so much faster over Eurasia than North America, it does suggest that snow darkening from black carbon, a process lacking in most climate models, is playing a role," Flanner said.

Last modified May 6, 2010 by Becca Hatheway.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA