National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2016

Causes of variability in light absorption by particles in snow at sites in Idaho and Utah

Doherty, S.J., D.A. Hegg, J.E. Johnson, P.K. Quinn, J.P. Schwarz, C. Dang, and S.G. Warren

J. Geophys. Res., 121(9), 4751–4768, doi: 10.1002/2015JD024375 (2016)

A characterization of black carbon (BC) and other light-absorbing particles in snow is presented for three mountain valley sites in Idaho in early 2014 and for one site near Vernal, Utah, in early 2013 and 2014. The focus of the study was on constraining the magnitude and drivers of variations in particulate absorbers in midlatitude U.S. seasonal snow. Mass mixing ratios of BC in newly fallen snow were similar at all three Idaho sites, with a median of 4.7 ± 4.2 ng BC per gram of snow. The median total light-absorbing particulate mixing ratios in new snow, expressed as an equivalent mixing ratio of BC, was 18 ± 23 ng g−1. At the Utah site, which is near sources of both fossil fuel and dust, the mixing ratios of BC varied from 7 to 45 ng g−1 across seven new snowfall samples, and the BC-equivalent mixing ratios varied from 9 to 1500 ng g−1. At all sites, dry deposition and in-snow processes increase the mixing ratio of BC by up to an order of magnitude and increase the mixing ratio of all light-absorbing particulates by up to 2 orders of magnitude, highlighting the importance of capturing these processes for accurately representing snow albedo in climate models. Spatial variability at a range of scales is found to be considerably smaller than the temporal variations at a given site, with implications for the representativeness of field samples used in observation/model comparisons.

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