Snowbanks are set to get whiter — offsetting climate change’s effects

  • November 29, 2023
  • Home Page Feature,Science and Technical Highlights
  • Melting snow in high mountains provides fresh water for drinking and food production in the spring and summer for 2 billion people. When and how that snow melts is critical. (Photo by Puripat Lertpunyaroj / )

    Less pollution settling into snow should help cut the decline of snowpack in the Northern Hemisphere later this century. Though the snowpack will still diminish due to rising temperatures, the outlook is less dire when the cleaner snow of the future is considered.

    Researchers at PNNL weighed several factors that affect snowpack, including warming temperatures, pollution, dust and even the shape of snow grains as they pack together on the ground. In some Shared Socio-economic Pathways scenarios, they predict that the reduction in snowpack will be less than half what has been predicted without considering dirty snow effects—good news for the many people who rely on subsequent snowmelt in high mountains for water and food production, as well as for those who depend on winter recreation.

    While clean snow reflects an estimated 80 to 90 percent of sunlight, dirty snow reflects less—a huge variable that the PNNL team said has not been studied as thoroughly as the effect of temperature. Researchers believe that cleaner snow can be expected in the future, due to less pollution and less wood burning.

    Read more about this reasearch in the article “Cleaner Snow Boosts Future Snowpack Predictions”.



    • This work was supported by the Earth System Model Development program area of the Department of Energy, Office of Science (DOE), Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program, as part of the Climate Process Team (CPT) and Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM) and the ICoM projects. It was also supported by the Regional and Global Model Analysis program area of DOE BER, as part of the HiLAT project.


    • L. Ruby Leung, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
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