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Variation in Rising Limb of Colorado River Snowmelt Runoff Hydrograph Controlled by Dust Radiative Forcing in Snow

  • Author(s): Painter, TH
  • Skiles, SMK
  • Deems, JS
  • Brandt, WT
  • Dozier, J
  • et al.

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Common practice and conventional wisdom hold that fluctuations in air temperature control interannual variability in snowmelt and subsequent river runoff. However, recent observations in the Upper Colorado River Basin confirm that net solar radiation and by extension radiative forcing by dust deposited on snow cover exerts the primary forcing on snowmelt. We show that the variation in the shape of the rising limb of the annual hydrograph is controlled by variability in dust radiative forcing and surprisingly is independent of variations in winter and spring air temperatures. These observations suggest that hydroclimatic modeling must be improved to account for aerosol forcings of the water cycle. Anthropogenic climate change will likely reduce total snow accumulations and cause snowmelt runoff to occur earlier. However, dust radiative forcing of snowmelt is likely consuming important adaptive capacity that would allow human and natural systems to be more resilient to changing hydroclimatic conditions.

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