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Black carbon persists in snow and ice globally; distant forest fires deposit soot thousands of miles away, accelerating melt

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Black carbon varies, but stubbornly persists, in snow and ice around the world

Posted: 30 Jun 2017 11:07 AM PDT

A new study comparing 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) 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….

While the exact sources of black carbon are often difficult to pinpoint in remote areas, the researchers used molecular analysis of the black carbon along with analysis of wind patterns to show that Greenland’s ice sheet had recently seen clear effects of wildfires burning thousands of miles away in the Canadian Arctic. “We could tell that the carbon was fresh from these fires…”

…Wildfires are anticipated to increase in future years, a trend that could compound the effects of longer summer melt seasons and allow for more black carbon deposition. “More black carbon exposure on the ice could continue to drive a feedback loop of further melt,” ….”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…

lia L. Khan, Sasha Wagner, Rudolf Jaffe, Peng Xian, Mark Williams, Richard Armstrong, Diane McKnight. Dissolved black carbon in the global cryosphere: Concentrations and chemical signatures. Geophysical Research Letters, 2017; DOI: 10.1002/2017GL073485

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