Susan Kaspari
Associate Professor
Department of Geological Sciences
329 Discovery Hall
tel: +1 509 963-2738
fax: +1 509 963-2821
Ph.D. University of Maine, 2007


My primary research interest is investigating the role that black carbon plays in current and past climate change. Black carbon is a dark absorptive particle produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil and bio-fuels. In the atmosphere black carbon absorbs energy and causes atmospheric heating, Photo of sampling in Khumbu region of Nepal while black carbon deposited on snow and ice causes darkening of the surface, resulting in greater absorption of solar energy, heating of the snow/ice, and accelerated snow and glacier melt. Black carbon is a major contributor to observed climate warming, but remains a large source of uncertainty in analyses of climate change.

My research group works to:

  1. Assess black carbon concentrations in the present and past atmosphere, and investigate the impact of atmospheric black carbon on climate.

  2. Evaluate the extent to which black carbon deposited on snow and glacier surfaces can accelerate melt. An important aspect of this research includes assessing the relative importance of black carbon and other light absorbing impurities (LAI) in reducing snow albedo. LAI include black carbon, mineral dust, and colored organics.

To conduct this research we analyze the chemical composition of snow samples and ice cores retrieved from high elevation mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets, make direct atmospheric measurements, and characterize the optical properties of LAI. Extracting an ice core Instrumentation in my laboratory includes a Single Particle Soot Photometer (SP2), a Sunset organic-elemental carbon analyzer, a Portable UV-VIS-NIR Spectroradiometer (Spectral Evolution), a Hyperspectral Microscope (Cytoviva); and a Simultaneous Thermogravimetric Analyzer (STA 449 F5 Jupiter). My research space includes an ice core/snow walk in freezer and clean room facilities.

My laboratory now provides black carbon analytical services.

In addition to my black carbon research, I am interested in reconstructing past climate (paleoclimatology) to achieve an understanding of how the Earth’s climate system operates, and documenting recent environmental change related to human activities. By analyzing the chemistry (trace and major elements, stable isotopes, and black carbon) of ice cores, the composition of the atmosphere can be reconstructed. Through my research, I have worked in Antarctica, China (Tibetan Plateau), Nepal, Tajikistan, New Zealand, Switzerland and Washington State.

Selected Publications

  • Kaspari, S., S. Skiles, I. Delaney, D. Dixon, Accelerated Glacier Melt on Snowdome, Mt. Olympus, Washington due to Deposition of Black Carbon and Mineral Dust from Wildfire, Journal of Geophysical Research, 10.1002/2014JD022676, 2015.

  • Delaney, I., Kaspari, S., Jenkins, M. Deposition of Black Carbon in Snow at Blewett Pass, Washington: Seasonal and Interannual Trends, Spatial Variations and the Role of Local Forest Fire Activity, Journal of Geophysical Research, 120, 9160–9172, doi:10.1002/2015JD023762, 2015.

  • Kaspari S., T.H. Painter, M. Gysel, M. Schwikowski, Seasonal and elevational variations in black carbon and dust concentrations in snow and ice in the Solu-Khumbu, Nepal and estimated radiative forcings, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 14, 1-15, 2014.

  • Wendl, I.A, J.A. Menking, R. Farber, M. Gysel, S. Kaspari, M. Laborde, M. Schwikowski, Optimized Method for Black Carbon Analysis in Ice and Snow Using the Single Particle Soot Photometer, Atmosphere Measurement Techniques, 7, 2667-2681, 2014.

  • Kaspari, S., M. Schwikowski, M. Gysel, M. G. Flanner, S. Kang, S. Hou, and P. A. Mayewski, Recent increase in black carbon concentrations from a Mt. Everest ice core spanning 1860-2000 AD, Geophysical Research Letters, doi10.1029/2010GL046096R, 2011.

  • Kaspari, S., P.A. Mayewski, M.J. Handley, E.C. Osterberg, S. Kang, S. Hou, and D. Qin, Recent increases in atmospheric concentrations of Bi, U, Cs, Ca and S from a 350-Year Mt. Everest ice core record, Journal of Geophysical Research, doi:10.1029/2008JD011088, 2009.

  • Kaspari, S., P.A. Mayewski, M.J. Handley, S. Kang, S. Hou, K. Maasch, and D. Qin, A high-resolution record of atmospheric dust variability and composition since 1650 AD from a Mt. Everest Ice Core, Journal of Climate, 22, 3910-3925, 2009.

  • Kaspari, S., P.A. Mayewski, S. Kang, S. Sneed, S. Hou, R. Hooke, K.J. Kreutz, D. Introne, M.J. Handley, K. Maasch, D. Qin, and J. Ren, Reduction in northward incursions of the South Asian Monsoon since ~1400 AD inferred from a Mt. Everest ice core, Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1029/2007GL030440, 2007.


  • GEOL 441/541 Climate Variability and Climate Change
  • GEOL 423/523 The Cryosphere
  • GEOL 384 Ocean, Atmosphere and Climate Interactions
  • GEOL 107 Volcanoes, Earthquakes and Civilization
  • GEOL 503 Graduate Research Methods
  • ENST 202 Ecosystems, Resources, Population, and Culture