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Journal Article

Saharan dust events in the European Alps: role on snowmelt and geochemical characterization


Migliavacca,  Mirco
Biosphere-Atmosphere Interactions and Experimentation, Dr. M. Migliavacca, Department Biogeochemical Integration, Dr. M. Reichstein, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Mauro, B. D., Garzonio, R., Rossini, M., Filippa, G., Pogliotti, P., Galvagno, M., et al. (2019). Saharan dust events in the European Alps: role on snowmelt and geochemical characterization. The Cryosphere, 13(a), 1147-1165. doi:10.5194/tc-13-1147-2019.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0002-8213-5
The input of mineral dust from arid regions impacts snow optical properties. The induced albedo reduction generally alters the melting dynamics of the snowpack, resulting in earlier snowmelt. In this paper, we evaluate the impact of dust depositions on the melting dynamics of snowpack in a high-altitude site (2160m) in the European Alps (Torgnon, Aosta Valley, Italy) during three hydrological years (2013–2016). These years were characterized by several Saharan dust events that deposited significant amounts of mineral dust in the European Alps. We quantify the shortening of snow season due to dust deposition, by comparing observed snow depths and those simulated with the Crocus model accounting or not for the impact of impurities. The model was ran and tested using meteorological data from an Automated Weather Station. We propose the use of repeated digital images for tracking dust deposition and resurfacing in the snowpack. The good agreement between model prediction and digital images allowed us to propose the use of an RGB index (i.e. snow darkening index, SDI) for monitoring dust on snow using images from a digital camera. We also present a geochemical characterization of dust reaching the Alpine chain during spring in 2014. Elements found in dust were classified as a function of their origin and compared with Saharan sources. A strong enrichment in Fe was observed in snow containing Saharan dust. In our case study, impurities deposited in snow anticipated the disappearance of snow up to 38 days for the 2015/2016 season that was characterized by a strong dust deposition event, out of a total 7 months of typical snow persistence. During the other seasons considered here (2013/2014, and 2014/2015), the advancement in snow melt-out day was 18 and 11 days respectively. We conclude that the effect of the Saharan dust is to anticipate the snow melt-out dates, that is known to have a series of feedback effects: earlier snowmelt can propagate into altered hydrological cycle in the Alps, higher sensitivity to late summer drought, impact on vegetation phenology and carbon uptakes from the atmosphere.