Posted by: magmatist | December 28, 2013

Research Grant report- soot and glacier ablation at Mount Baker

Ian Delaney collects snow samples on Boulder Glacier in June, 2013. Photo by Ryan Larson. Click to enlarge any image.

Ian Delaney collects snow samples on Boulder Glacier in June, 2013. Photo by Ryan Larson. Click to enlarge any image.

Ian Delaney is one of MBVRC’s three 2013 research grant recipients. Ian, a graduate student at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, studied the effects of soot accumulation on glaciers in the Cascades. Two of his study areas were the Boulder and Easton Glaciers on Mount Baker. MBVRC provided funding for Ian’s transportation costs from Ellensburg to Mount Baker, food, and for Single Particle Soot Photometer analysis for 50 black carbon samples at CWU’s geology lab. Ian’s summary follows. The full report is available on our blog, and Ian’s thesis proposal to CWU is on the CWU website. Ian has now completed his Masters work and graduated. He will submit his research for publication in a journal.

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Surface snow on the Easton Glacier, Mount Baker, September 12, 2013. Note the variable impurity content.- dusty vs. 'pure' snow.

Snow on the Easton Glacier, Mount Baker, September 12, 2013. Note the variation in color- dusty vs. ‘pure’ snow, an artifact of variable melting rates.

Black carbon (also called soot, from the incomplete combustion of fossil and biofuels) deposition on snow and ice darkens the surface of glaciers and snowpack, reducing albedo or reflectivity, causing additional absorption of solar radiation by the snowpack thus accelerating snowmelt and changing the timing of runoff. This is particularly important in Washington State and Mount Baker, as glaciers and seasonal snowpack have shrunk considerably in recent years and are integral to the region’s water resources. Little data exists regarding the concentration of black carbon in Mount Baker’s snow, necessary to determine if enough black carbon is present to substantially accelerate snowmelt. To obtain this data, snow samples were collected in the early and late season (June 8th and September 12th, 2013) from the Boulder and Easton glaciers of Mount Baker and analyzed for black carbon. Analysis of this data suggests that black carbon concentrations are quite low during the early season, but increase considerably during the later summer- enough to reduce albedo by up to 21%. Increases in black carbon concentration found in the snowpack later in the season coincide with increased atmospheric concentrations of black carbon. Also during the later part of the season, large amounts of runoff come from glacial melt. As a result, black carbon contributes to glacier melt late in the summer, as opposed to melt of the seasonal snow earlier in the season. As black carbon contributes to albedo reduction and accelerated snowmelt, future work is needed to determine if black carbon in the region comes from anthropogenic activity or natural processes such as forest fires. Should large amounts of black carbon come from anthropogenic activities, efforts to reduce regional emissions, can improve the state of the regions water resources and glacial environments.

Click to go to Ian Delaney’s full report to MBVRC.


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