NCL hosts science series

carlBarbara Lawlor, Nederland.  Libraries are defined by the fact that they provide books for readers, but the Nederland Community Library goes far beyond that limited definition, offering many programs of educational value to the public.

Library director Jay Mann has been working hard to bring programs of local and global interest to the community. The current presentation is the Local Scientists Caring for Our Earth Series.

Last week, on Tuesday, October 25, 2016, Carl Schmitt, PhD. from NCAR spoke to a packed room about dirty snow and how human activity is affecting snow globally and how that affects humans. Schmitt works in the NCAR Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Laboratory.

Many of the scientists in the series are locals. Schmitt lives in Eldora and some of his work involves data from measuring the light absorbing particles in glaciers in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area.

Schmitt cofounded the American Climber Science Program which explores remote and extreme environments to further science and conservation around the world. He presented a slide show illustrating how soot particles are escalating the melting of glaciers, including pictures of the Ranrapaka Peak in 2013 and again in 2016, which reveal a dramatic decrease in the depth and acreage of the snow.

Gathering the data involves climbing expeditions up to some of the highest peaks in Peru, in the Andes mountain chain. He emphasized the fact that the glaciers in this area act as reservoirs for fresh water year round and up to 95 million people rely on the Andean glaciers for water. Globally, two billion people get their water from glaciers.

Schmitt’s work indicates that light absorbing particles which include dust and soot, or black carbon, have a substantial impact on the melting of the glaciers.

The idea of having local scientists speak in a public forum was inspired by a random conversation on the bus between Schmitt and Bonnie Sundance, a local conservationist. The climate change conversation has been addressed at many levels, Schmitt’s method of gathering data indicates that dirty snow is having an effect on the glaciers in our backyard.

“I spent six years of measuring the snow in Peru and then started the American Climber Society Program to get people, climbers, to help us collect samples while they are on expeditions. The project is 100 percent volunteers, we pay for the research equipment ourselves. There are many people on location who want to do good in the world.”

Schmitt says he can now actually see the effects of climate change, that much of the snow has disappeared, he can hear the rocks coming down the slope constantly. Places he has climbed can now be accessed by exposed trails. He says it is raining at 5,000 km where it has usually snowed.

glaciers1 glaciers-2

He explains the dirty snow phenomenon: “It is as if the mountain is wearing a black t-shirt instead of a white t-shirt. The black carbon on the snow absorbs the light. He says there is more dust and soot on the snow because of humans. Schmitt has collected bags of snow, melted it and filtered and preserved it in coin holders, to measure the amount of soot.

Last winter, Schmitt ran up to Lost Lake, above Hessie, 21 times to collect snow at various times. In March, during a dry spell, the dirt levels increased but additional snowfall cleaned it up. After taking measurements in Southwest Colorado, the data revealed that snow melt can happen up to four weeks earlier than usual due to the dust, and that total runoff is reduced due to the dust.

Schmitt says he is looking for additional volunteers to get samples from glaciers all over the world and he has submitted a citizen science proposal to NASA. Local collaborators, students, friends and even his mom will be collecting samples throughout Colorado and Wyoming.

The next presentation in the series will be given by Megan Melamed, PhD who studied International Global Atmospheric Chemistry. Megan was raised in the mountains north of Nederland in a home that is off the grid, powered by a wind generator and solar photovoltaic modules. This unique experience is the foundation of her career as an atmospheric chemist. Megan attended Nederland High School and in 2000, Megan received two Bachelor of Arts degrees, in Chemistry and in Spanish Literature, from Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
Melamed’s presentation will be on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 at 7 p.m.

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.