Impact of light-absorbing particles on snow albedo darkening and associated radiative forcing over high-mountain Asia: high-resolution WRF-Chem modeling and new satellite observations

Sarangi, Chandan; Qian, Yun; Rittger, Karl; Bormann, Kathryn J.; Liu, Ying; Wang, Hailong; Wan, Hui; Lin, Guangxing; Painter, Thomas H.

Light-absorbing particles (LAPs), mainly dust and black carbon, can significantly impact snowmelt and regional water availability over high-mountain Asia (HMA). In this study, for the first time, online aerosol–snow interactions are enabled and a fully coupled chemistry Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF-Chem) regional model is used to simulate LAP-induced radiative forcing on snow surfaces in HMA at relatively high spatial resolution (12 km, WRF-HR) compared with previous studies. Simulated macro- and microphysical properties of the snowpack and LAP-induced snow darkening are evaluated against new spatially and temporally complete datasets of snow-covered area, grain size, and impurity-induced albedo reduction over HMA. A WRF-Chem quasi-global simulation with the same configuration as WRF-HR but a coarser spatial resolution (1∘, WRF-CR) is also used to illustrate the impact of spatial resolution on simulations of snow properties and aerosol distribution over HMA. Due to a more realistic representation of terrain slopes over HMA, the higher-resolution model (WRF-HR) shows significantly better performance in simulating snow area cover, duration of snow cover, snow albedo and snow grain size over HMA, as well as an evidently better atmospheric aerosol loading and mean LAP concentration in snow. However, the differences in albedo reduction from model and satellite retrievals is large during winter due to associated overestimation in simulated snow fraction. It is noteworthy that Himalayan snow cover has high magnitudes of LAP-induced snow albedo reduction (4 %–8 %) in pre-monsoon seasons (both from WRF-HR and satellite estimates), which induces a snow-mediated radiative forcing of ∼30–50 W m−2. As a result, the Himalayas (specifically the western Himalayas) hold the most vulnerable glaciers and mountain snowpack to the LAP-induced snow darkening effect within HMA. In summary, coarse spatial resolution and absence of snow–aerosol interactions over the Himalayan cryosphere will result in significant underestimation of aerosol effects on snow melting and regional hydroclimate.

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Sarangi, Chandan / Qian, Yun / Rittger, Karl / et al: Impact of light-absorbing particles on snow albedo darkening and associated radiative forcing over high-mountain Asia: high-resolution WRF-Chem modeling and new satellite observations. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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