It’s Gonna Be a Gray Christmas!

Photo by: Jack Brauer

The water that melts from snow makes up one third of California’s drinking water. Water that filters through the ecosystem is a routine process that addresses many variables such as precipitation, temperature, timing, and last but not least, snowpack. Snow water is an important component of overall water storage making up a large portion of the water in adjacent reservoirs. The rise in temperature has not only reduced the amount of snow, but has thrown off the fragile timing of the ecosystem’s natural process of water recharge. Especially in water-scarce areas such as California, the seasonal mismatch between water demand and flow availability has become an issue of top concern. The decline in the snowpack has led to many other downhill effects including loss of hydropower, drinking water, and disturbances in fish migration.

Black carbon, more commonly known as soot, is the second biggest cause of global warming. It is the black cloud of smoke pluming from almost anything that is burned. When these black particles float down onto the snow, it turns its white, reflective surface into  a darker, heat absorbing one. This process quickens the melting of glaciers, thus altering the area’s regional weather patterns. Another problem arises when the particles fall onto the snow’s surface. After the “gray snow” melts, the earth beneath it heats up, increasing the temperature of the mountain by up to a couple of degrees. The upcoming snow falling on the hotter areas of earth would not be able to accumulate due to the increase in temperature. Black carbon comes from many sources including forest fires, diesel engines, and burning of coal. With urbanization comes an abundant amount of vehicles. The amount of engines producing this black smoke toppled with the prevailing winds coming from the ocean to the west makes the process of “gray snow” nearly unavoidable.


Map of China’s soot pollution carried by an atmospheric river. By Jeremy Jarin

An atmospheric river is a narrow corridor in the atmosphere that is rich in water vapor. They are associated with strong winds that force the water vapor up mountain side, thus producing rainfall. With winds strong enough to carry water vapors across the Pacific Ocean, these rivers may have other particles tagging along. China, the number one coal producing and consuming country in the world, is on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. China burns more coal to produce electricity than the United States, Europe, and Japan combined. These emissions are yet another factor to California’s soot pollution problem.


One response to “It’s Gonna Be a Gray Christmas!

  1. Thank you Jeremy for posting this. I have never before heard of black carbon despite it being on of the main causes of global warming. Although, upon reflection it seems a matter of fact. This reminds me of the Pacific Garbage Patch and how it is an accumulation of trash. The black carbon then seems the accumulation of emissions.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s