Over at HCN’s The Goat Blog, Sarah Jane Keller reports on a new study that shows how helping desert soil could save Western Colorado’s snowpack:
Southwest Colorado’s snowpack is the West’s hardest-hit when spring winds carrying tiny dust particles slam into the mountains. That cinnamon layer coating the snow means that it absorbs more of the sun’s radiation heats up, and melts faster than clean snow…. As water managers in the Colorado Basin plan for the region’s impending water crunch, and more dust is blowing around the West, they are starting to realize that dust is a hydrological game-changer.
The Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, in Silverton, Colo., began tracking dust on snow in the San Juan Mountains in 2003, but dust has been worse in recent years, including 2013. In a recent study looking at the combined impact of climate warming and dust on the Upper Colorado River Basin’s snowpack, researchers found that “extreme” dust years like 2009 and 2010 advance spring runoff timing by three weeks, compared to moderate dust years. That’s a total of six weeks earlier than runoff from clean snow.;
The new study “adds more detail to what earlier research has shown,” Keller writes: “That at least in the short term, dust has a bigger impact on the speed of mountain snow melt than increasing temperatures do.”
For many years, SUWA has been pointing out the connection between protecting the wild lands of the Colorado Plateau with other critical issues like climate change and water allocation for the Colorado Basin.
That’s why it’s so critical to protect places like Greater Canyonlands, where an explosion of off-road vehicle use and mining and drilling has helped to hasten the seasonal demise of Colorado’s snowpack and the resulting pressure on the Colorado River’s 40 million water users.