Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2009NV150B

Black Carbon in Sierra Nevada Snow: Impacts on Snowmelt and Water Supply

Institute: Nevada
Year Established: 2009 Start Date: 2009-03-01 End Date: 2011-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $40,820 Total Non-Federal Funds: $85,936

Principal Investigators: Joe McConnell

Abstract: Because >85% of Nevada’s water supplies originate as mountain snow, quantitative understanding of processes that influence snow melt and spring runoff is critical to Nevada’s economic growth and ecological sustainability. Although the sources and impacts are poorly understood, black carbon (BC) aerosols emitted during combustion and deposited on snow decrease reflectance, leading to enhanced snow pack warming, sublimation and melt. Because local emissions are significant, abatement efforts in Nevada and California could help preserve Sierra Nevada snow resources. We propose the first comprehensive field and laboratory study of BC in eastern Sierra Nevada snow. This research is only possible because of a recent analytical breakthrough in DRI’s snow chemistry laboratory which lowered detection limits for BC in water by four orders of magnitude. Collaborative snow radiation and energy balance modeling will be used to synthesize field and laboratory studies and to evaluate the impact of measured BC concentrations on snow melt and runoff.