The new CU Boulder study compares dissolved black carbon deposition on ice and snow in ecosystems around the world (including Antarctica, the Arctic and alpine regions of the Himalayas, Rockies, Andes and Alps) and shows that while concentrations vary widely, significant amounts can persist in both pristine and non-pristine areas of snow.
Black carbon is the soot-like byproduct of wildfires and fossil fuel consumption, able to be carried long distances via atmospheric transport. Because these black particles absorb more heat than white snow, the study of black carbon concentrations in glaciers is important for predicting future melt rates.
The global scope of the study could help researchers set upper and lower limits for black carbon deposition and better account for the effects of photodegradation, a process by which sunlight alters the molecular composition over time.
“The influence of distant forest fires on melt events on the Greenland ice sheet is inherently challenging to demonstrate and these clear chemical results provide another line of evidence for this connection,” said Diane McKnight, a CU Boulder professor and a co-author of the study. The research was also co-authored by Richard Armstrong and Mark Williams of CU Boulder, INSTAAR and NSIDC; Sasha Wagner and Rudolf Jaffe of Florida International University; and Peng Xian of the Naval Research Laboratory in Monterey, California.
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