Satellite observations of desert dust-induced Himalayan snow darkening



[1] The optically thick aerosol layer along the southern edge of the Himalaya has been subject of several recent investigations relating to its radiative impacts on the South Asian summer monsoon and regional climate forcing. Prior to the onset of summer monsoon, mineral dust from southwest Asian deserts is transported over the Himalayan foothills on an annual basis. Episodic dust plumes are also advected over the Himalaya, visible as dust-laden snow surface in satellite imagery, particularly in western Himalaya. We examined spectral surface reflectance retrieved from spaceborne MODIS observations that show characteristic reduction in the visible wavelengths (0.47 µm) over western Himalaya, associated with dust-induced solar absorption. Case studies as well as seasonal variations of reflectance indicate a significant gradient across the visible (0.47 µm) to near-infrared (0.86 µm) spectrum (VIS-NIR), during premonsoon period. Enhanced absorption at shorter visible wavelengths and the resulting VIS-NIR gradient is consistent with model calculations of snow reflectance with dust impurity. While the role of black carbon in snow cannot be ruled out, our satellite-based analysis suggests the observed spectral reflectance gradient dominated by dust-induced solar absorption during premonsoon season. From an observational viewpoint, this study underscores the importance of mineral dust deposition toward darkening of the western Himalayan snow cover, with potential implications to accelerated seasonal snowmelt and regional snow albedo feedbacks.