"Zebra stripes" of dust and snow are visible on the snow surface in Colorado mountains.
Click on image for full size
Image Courtesy of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies
Dust-on-Snow: Spring Winds Can Bring More Snowmelt
Scientists are learning about how dust from wind storms is affecting the snow pack in Colorado. When the winds are right and the desert is dry, dust blows to the east from U.S. Southwest. When this happens, small dark particles of the dust fall on Colorado's pristine white snowfields.
"More than 80 percent of sunlight falling on fresh snow is reflected back to space," says Tom Painter, Director of the University of Utah's Snow Optics Laboratory. "But sprinkle some dark particles on the snow and that number drops dramatically."
"The darker dust absorbs sunlight, reducing the amount of reflected light and in turn warming the now 'dirty' snow surface," says scientist Chris Landry, Director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies (CSAS) in Silverton, Colorado.
Although scientists knew from theory and modeling studies that this dust changed the amount of solar energy that is absorbed or reflected from the snowfields, which is called albedo, no one had made measurements of how it affects snowmelt rates. Then during the winter/spring of 2004, Painter and Landry began their project. They were the first to make measurements of dust-on-snow events along with collecting data about climate and hydrology.
Spring snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains provides much of the American West's water supplies. As a result of Painter's and Landry's research, water managers have learned more about the snowmelt process, and are using those findings to help the Colorado Dust-on-Snow (CODOS) program provide information.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist
, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, as well as books
on science education!
You might also be interested in:
Wind is moving air. Warm air rises, and cool air comes in to take its place. This movement creates different pressures in the atmosphere which creates the winds around the globe. Since the Earth spins,...more
This picture of the Earth surface was taken from high above the planet in the International Space Station. In this view from above, we can see that there are lots of different things that cover the Earth....more
Scientists have learned that Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain, has erupted in the past due to the mixing of two different types of magma. "The data will help give us a better road map to what a future...more
The Earth's mantle is a rocky, solid shell that is between the Earth's crust and the outer core, and makes up about 84 percent of the Earth's volume. The mantle is made up of many distinct portions or...more
Some geologic faults that appear strong and stable, slip and slide like weak faults, causing earthquakes. Scientists have been looking at one of these faults in a new way to figure out why. In theory,...more
The sun goes through cycles that last approximately 11 years. These solar cycle include phases with more magnetic activity, sunspots, and solar flares. They also include phases with less activity. The...more
Studying tree rings doesn't only tell us the age of that tree. Tree rings also show what climate was like for each year of a tree's life, which means they can tell us about climates of the past and about...more