Regional variability in dust-on-snow processes and impacts in the Upper Colorado River Basin

Hydrological Processes
By: , and 



Dust deposition onto mountain snow cover in the Upper Colorado River Basin frequently occurs in the spring when wind speeds and dust emission peaks on the nearby Colorado Plateau. Dust loading has increased since the intensive settlement in the western USA in the mid 1880s. The effects of dust-on-snow have been well studied at Senator Beck Basin Study Area (SBBSA) in the San Juan Mountains, CO, the first high-altitude area of contact for predominantly southwesterly winds transporting dust from the southern Colorado Plateau. To capture variability in dust transport from the broader Colorado Plateau and dust deposition across a larger area of the Colorado River water sources, an additional study plot was established in 2009 on Grand Mesa, 150 km to the north of SBBSA in west central, CO. Here, we compare the 4-year (2010–2013) dust source, deposition, and radiative forcing records at Grand Mesa Study Plot (GMSP) and Swamp Angel Study Plot (SASP), SBBSA's subalpine study plot. The study plots have similar site elevations/environments and differ mainly in the amount of dust deposited and ensuing impacts. At SASP, end of year dust concentrations ranged from 0.83 mg g−1 to 4.80 mg g−1, and daily mean spring dust radiative forcing ranged from 50–65 W m−2, advancing melt by 24–49 days. At GMSP, which received 1.0 mg g−1 less dust per season on average, spring radiative forcings of 32–50 W m−2 advanced melt by 15–30 days. Remote sensing imagery showed that observed dust events were frequently associated with dust emission from the southern Colorado Plateau. Dust from these sources generally passed south of GMSP, and back trajectory footprints modelled for observed dust events were commonly more westerly and northerly for GMSP relative to SASP. These factors suggest that although the southern Colorado Plateau contains important dust sources, dust contributions from other dust sources contribute to dust loading in this region, and likely account for the majority of dust loading at GMSP.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Regional variability in dust-on-snow processes and impacts in the Upper Colorado River Basin
Series title Hydrological Processes
DOI 10.1002/hyp.10569
Volume 29
Issue 26
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher John Wiley & Sons
Publisher location Chichester, Sussex, England
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description 27 p.
First page 5397
Last page 5413
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details