End of the Little Ice Age in the Alps forced by industrial black carbon

by Thomas H. Painter et al., September 17, 2018 in PNAS

The end of the Little Ice Age in the European Alps has long been a paradox to glaciology and climatology. Glaciers in the Alps began to retreat abruptly in the mid-19th century, but reconstructions of temperature and precipitation indicate that glaciers should have instead advanced into the 20th century. We observe that industrial black carbon in snow began to increase markedly in the mid-19th century and show with simulations that the associated increases in absorbed sunlight by black carbon in snow and snowmelt were of sufficient magnitude to cause this scale of glacier retreat. This hypothesis offers a physically based explanation for the glacier retreat that maintains consistency with the temperature and precipitation reconstructions.