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Dust Causes Early End to Western Winters

January 23, 2008

Dust from agricultural and urban developments may be shortening western winters significantly, research from the University of Utah shows.

Thomas Painter, head of the Snow Optics Laboratory at the University of Utah said that dirt mixed with snow limits the heat the snow can reflect, thus causing snow to melt faster. Currently, snowpacks are melting approximately a month before they should.

Painter’s research reveals the seriousness of this problem and its effect on ecology. According to an article from the Associated Press, Painter says that “when the snow cover dissipates earlier than it should, the ground is exposed at a time when the sun is highest in the sky. This can hurt the local ecology.”

The temperature of the regional climate is also rising by about 1.5 degrees Centigrade.

Current research is being done on the Wasatch Ranch. Dust fiercely attacks the snowpack there. This could have serious implications because the canyons there provide a majority of the water supply to Salt Lake City, as well as being significant winter sports spots which could be potentially economically damaged.

Painter claims that if cleaning the snowpack is possible, the snowpack will last a great deal longer.

He also claims these problems are global, not just localized to Utah, Colorado, and other western states. For example, since the Aral Sea in Asia disappeared, dust has begun to blow off the lake bed into the Tienshan mountain range in China, disrupting the hydrologic cycles of the snowpack.

Painter is concerned about the surge in dust emissions worldwide. Despite the copious amounts of research left to be completed, Painter seems to be excited. He claims, “We have enormous amounts of research to do. I look forward to doing it over the next decade.”

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