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

I have been a professor at Central Washington University since 2009. In addition to research and teaching, I also work on sustainability efforts at CWU. In my spare time I enjoy skiing, mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, running, birding, travelling and reading, and spending time with my family, friends and husky.


My primary research interest is investigating the role that light absorbing particles play in current and past climate change. Light absorbing particles include black carbon, mineral dust and colored organics. When deposited on snow and glacier surfaces, light absorbing particles contribute to snow darkening, leading to greater absorption of energy, and accelerated snow and ice melt. This impacts the availability of water resources, and the Earth's energy balance.

Light absorbing particles in snow near Central Washington University. Black carbon deposited on snow at Table Mountain post-wildfire Snow algae near Mt. Stuart
Light absorbing particles in snow near Central Washington University. Black carbon deposited on snow at Table Mountain post-wildfire (left), and snow algae near Mt. Stuart (right)

Light absorbing particles include:

  • Black carbon, a dark absorptive particle produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil and bio-fuels. In addition to causing snow/ice darkening and melt, atmosphere black carbon absorbs energy and causes atmospheric heating. Black carbon is a major contributor to observed climate warming, but remains a large source of uncertainty in analyses of climate change.
  • Mineral dust from arid regions and rocky outcrops. Dust production has increased in some regions due to land use change including agricultural and grazing practices, and development.
  • Colored organics, including snow algae and bacteria.

To conduct this research we analyze the chemical composition of snow samples and ice cores retrieved from high elevation mountain glaciers, polar ice sheets, and the seasonal snowpack, make direct atmospheric measurements, and characterize the optical properties of light absorbing particles.

In addition to my light absorbing particle 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.

Collecting snow samples on Mera Peak in Nepal Drilling shallow ice cores on Mt. Olympus, Washington
Collecting snow samples on Mera Peak in Nepal (left), and drilling shallow ice cores on
Mt. Olympus, Washington (right)

Instrumentation and Facilities

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). Further information about laboratory facilities is available here. My research space includes an ice core/snow walk in freezer and clean room facilities.

Cold Lab at CWU

My laboratory provides black carbon analytical services.


I teach in the Department of Geological Sciences, Environmental Studies Program, and through the Sustainability Certificate, and am an active mentor of undergraduate and graduate research students.

Courses I teach include:

  • GEOL 441/541: Climate Variability and Climate Change
  • GEOL 423/523: The Cryosphere
  • GEOL 384: Ocean, Atmosphere and Climate Interactions
  • GEOL 201: Water and Climate
  • EENST 499: Campus Sustainability
  • ENST 201: Earth as an Ecosystem
  • ENST 202: Environment and Society
  • SUST 309: Sustainability Civic Engagement Experience
  • SUST 487: Sustainability Project Capstone

Selected Publications

(*=student authored)

*Uecker, T. M., Kaspari, S., Musselman, K. N., & McKenzie Skiles, S. (2020). The Post-Wildfire Impact of Burn Severity and Age on Black Carbon Snow Deposition and Implications for Snow Water Resources, Cascade Range, Washington. Journal of Hydrometeorology, 21(8), 1777-1792.

*Kaspari, S., Pittenger, D., Jenk, T. M., Morgenstern, U., Schwikowski, M., Buenning, N., & Stott, L. (2020). Twentieth Century Black Carbon and Dust Deposition on South Cascade Glacier, Washington State, USA as Reconstructed from a 158 m Long Ice Core. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, n/a(n/a), e2019JD031126.

*Marquetto, L., Kaspari, S., & Cardia Simões, J. (2020). Refractory black carbon (rBC) variability in a 47-year West Antarctic snow and firn core. The Cryosphere, 14(5), 1537-1554.

Nagorski, S. A., Kaspari, S. D., Hood, E., Fellman, J. B., & Skiles, S. M. (2019). Radiative Forcing by Dust and Black Carbon on the Juneau Icefield, Alaska. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 124(7), 3943-3959.

*Dal Farra, A., Kaspari, S., Beach, J., Bucheli, T. D., Schaepman, M., Schwikowski, M., Spectral signatures of submicron scale light absorbing impurities in snow and ice using hyperspectral microscopy. Journal of Glaciology, 2018, doi: 10.1017/jog.2018.29.

*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.