Dust-on-snow and the timing of peak streamflow in the upper Rio Grande

TitleDust-on-snow and the timing of peak streamflow in the upper Rio Grande
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsSteele C, Elias E, Moffitt A, Beltran I, Rango A
Conference NameAmerican Geophysical Union Fall Meeting
Date Published12/2015
Conference LocationSan Francisco, CA
ARIS Log Number324048

Dust radiative forcing on high elevation snowpack is well-documented in the southern Rockies. Various field studies show that dust deposits decrease snow albedo and increase absorption of solar radiation, leading to earlier snowmelt and peak stream flows. These findings have implications for the use of temperature-index snow runoff models (such as the Snowmelt Runoff Model [SRM]) for predicting streamflow. In previous work, we have used SRM to simulate historical streamflow from 26 Upper Rio Grande sub-basins. Because dust radiative forcing can alter the relation between temperature and snowmelt, we wanted to find out if there is evidence of dust radiative forcing and earlier snowmelt in our study basins, particularly for those years where SRM was less successful in simulating streamflow. To accomplish this we have used openly-available data such as EPA air quality station measurements of particulate matter up to 10 micrometers (PM10); streamflow data from the USGS National Water Information System and Colorado Division of Water Resources; temperature, precipitation and snow water equivalent (SWE) from NRCS SNOTEL stations and remotely sensed data products from the MODIS sensor. Initial analyses indicate that a connection between seasonal dust concentration and streamflow timing (date of onset of warm-season snowmelt, date of streamflow center-of-volume) can be detected. This is further supported by time series analysis of MODIS-derived estimates of snow albedo and dust radiative-forcing in alpine and open subalpine snow fields.