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Scientists Seek A Better Tally Of Soot On North American Snowpack

A couple winters ago, a team of Northwest scientists jumped in a pickup and traveled hundreds of miles around the U.S. and Canadian backroads. They were after samples of dirty snow.

Hailong Wang with the Pacific Northwest National Lab in Richland is trying to build better computer models of how much soot is on snow across the world. He said snow is getting dirty from things like factories, cars or even natural wildfires.

Wang explained that when some of that airborne soot drops down on snow, it’s like the snowpack is wearing a black jacket on a sunny day.

“The most important impact is how it will change the seasonal supply of fresh water,” Wang said.

What he means is snow will melt out quicker in the spring and summer than we’re used to.

Wang said the team found more soot than they predicted on their study of North American snow. But the continent’s snow is in relative better shape than Asia’s right now.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.