Urban pollution can often impact surrounding, non-urban regions, through advection and dispersal of pollutants by the prevailing winds. Urban regions located upstream of high mountains, such as the Andes, can potentially impact the cryosphere by deposition of particles onto the surface of the snowpack and glaciers.
Santiago, the capital of Chile, has more than 6 million inhabitants and regularly experiences episodes of severe pollution, particularly during the austral winter. Some studies have hypothesized that particle pollution from Santiago can reach the cryosphere downwind of the city, but the scarcity of measurements made high in the mountains prevents the validation of mesoscale models so the proof of actual impact remains elusive. A research project was designed to provide some insight into this question. The Pollution Impact on Snow in the Cordillera - Experiments and Simulations (PISCES) project was carried out in 2014 and includes both observational and modeling components. A five-week field campaign was conducted at the end of winter, at an elevated site in a mountain valley, 65 km to the southeast of the center of Santiago, to characterize some aspects of particulate pollution.
During synoptic conditions that result in clear days at the site, the mesoscale mountain-valley circulation is effective in transporting pollutants upwards during the day, leading to diluted particle concentrations beyond the summits of the highest peaks. Cloudy days with reduced up-valley circulation do not show increased concentrations associated with transport. Back trajectories indicate that airmasses reaching the site during the field campaign are seldom influenced by pollution from Santiago.