Assistant Professor (Ph.D. University of California - Los Angeles, 2014) -- Mountain hydrology, snow optics and remote sensing, radiative forcing by light absorbing particles in snow and ice, cryosphere-climate interaction.

McKenzie Skiles


  • Office: Bldg. 73 Rm 203
  • e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • phone: 801-581-3610

Research Interests:

  • Mountain hydrology
  • Snow optics and remote sensing
  • Radiative forcing by light absorbing particles in snow and ice
  • Cryosphere-climate interaction



My research interests are interdisciplinary and center on mountain and snow hydrology, light absorbing particulates in snow and snow energy balance, remote sensing of the cryosphere, and cryosphere-climate interaction. My research methods combine numerical modeling with laboratory analysis and field/remotely sensed observations. One of my main research trajectories is investigating the impacts of mineral dust and black carbon deposition on snow. In this emerging field my research has focused on filling knowledge gaps in the Western US, where increased dust emission and deposition is relatively new process and changing snowmelt patterns have important implications for water security. A related research trajectory is applying my understanding of snow physical and optical properties to remote sensing retrievals, and I am currently a science team member of NASA-JPL's Airborne Snow Observatory. This work is motivated by the belief that advancing remote sensing technology offers the only practical solution to accurately quantify spatial snow water equivalent and monitor spatial snowpack trends over the complex terrain of mid-latitude mountain snow cover.


  • Postdoctoral Scholar, Caltech/NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (2015)
  • PhD, Geography, University of California- Los Angeles (2014)
  • MS, Geography, University of Utah (2010)
  • BS, Geography, University of Utah (2008)
  • BS, Environmental Studies, University of Utah (2008)
  • GIS Certificate, University of Utah (2008)

Courses Taught:

GEOG 3140/GEOG 6139 Introduction to GIS/GIS Fundamentals 



  • 2010       Interannual Variability in Radiative Forcing by Desert Dust in Snowcover in the Colorado River Basin. University of Utah.
  • 2014       Dust and Black Carbon Radiative Forcing Controls on Snowmelt in the Colorado River Basin. University of California - Los Angeles.

Peer Reviewed Publications

  • 2012       Painter, T.H., S.M. Skiles, J. Deems, C. C. Landry, Dust Radiative Forcing in snow of the Upper Colorado River Basin: Part I. A 6 year record of energy balance, radiation, and dust concentrations. Water Resources Research. 48, doi:10.1029/2012WR011985.
  • 2012       Skiles, S.M., T. H. Painter, J. Deems, C. C. Landry. Dust Radiative Forcing in snow of the Upper Colorado River Basin: Part II. Interannual variability in radiative forcing and snowmelt rates. Water Resources Research. 48, doi:10.1029/2012WR011986.
  • 2013       Painter, T. H., A. C. Bryant, S.M. Skiles. Radiative Forcing by light absorbing impurities in snow from MODIS surface reflectance data, Geophysical Research Letters, 39, doi:10.1029/2012GL052457.
  • 2013       Painter, T. H., F. Seidel, A.C. Bryant, S.M. Skiles, K. Rittger. Imaging Spectroscopy of albedo and radiative forcing by light-absorbing impurities in mountain snow, Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 118(17), doi: 10.1002/jgrd.50520.
  • 2013       Reynolds, R.L., H. L. Goldstein, B. M. Moskowitz, S. M. Skiles, R.F. Kokaly, C.B. Flagg, K. Yauk, T. Berquó, G. Breit, M. Ketterer, D. Fernandez, M.E. Miller, T.H. Painter. Composition of dust deposited to snow cover in the Wasatch Range (Utah, USA): Controls on radiative properties and snow cover and comparison to some dust source sediments, Aeolian Research, doi: 10.1016/j.aeolia.2013.08.001.
  • 2013       Li, J., G.S. Okin, S.M. Skiles, T.H. Painter. Relating variation of dust on snow to bare soil dynamics in the western United States, Environmental Research Letters, 8(4), doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/8/4/044054.
  • 2014       Kaspari, S., T.H. Painter, M. Gysel, S.M. Skiles, M. Schwikowski. Seasonal and elevational variations of black carbon and dust in snow an ice in the Solu-Khumbu, Nepal and estimated radiative forcings, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, doi:10.5194/acpd-13-33491-2013.
  • 2014       Oaida, C., Y. Xue, M. Flanner, S.M. Skiles, F. De Sales, T.H. Painter. Investigating Physical Snow Processes Including Aerosols Using An Enhanced WRF/SSiB Model. Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres, doi: 10.1002/2014JD022444.
  • 2014       Kaspari, S., S.M. Skiles, I. Delaney, D. Dixon, T.H. Painter. Accelerated Glacier Melt on Snow Dome, Mt. Olympus, Washington, USA due to Deposition of Black Carbon and Mineral Dust from Wildfire. Journal of Geophysical Research- Atmospheres, doi: 10.1002/2014JD022676.
  • 2015       Skiles, S.M., T.H. Painter, J. Belnap, L. Holland, R.L. Reynolds, H.L. Goldstein, J. Lin. Regional variability in dust‐on‐snow processes and impacts in the Upper Colorado River Basin. Hydrologic Processes, doi:10.1002/hyp.10569.
  • 2016       Skiles, S.M., & T.H. Painter. A 9-yr record of dust-on-snow in the Colorado River Basin, Proceedings of the 12th Biennial Conference of Science and Management on the Colorado Plateau, doi: 10.3133/sir20155180.
  • 2016       Miller, S., F. Wang, A. Burgess, S.M. Skiles, T.H. Painter, M. Rogers. Satellite-Based Estimation of Temporally Resolved Dust Radiative Forcing in Snow Cover, Journal of Hydrometeorology, doi: 10.1175/JHM-D-15-0150.1.
  • 2016       Painter, T.H., S.M. Skiles, and others. The Airborne Snow Observatory: scanning lidar and imaging spectrometer fusion for mapping snow water equivalent and snow albedo, Remote Sensing of the Environment, doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2016.06.018
  • 2016       Seidel, F., K. Rittger, S.M. Skiles, T.H. Painter. Case study of spatial and temporal variability of snow cover, grain size, albedo and radiative forcing in the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountain snowpack derived from imaging spectroscopy, The Cryosphere, doi: 10.5194/tc-10-1229-2016.
  • 2016       Minder, J.R., T.W. Lechter, S.M. Skiles. An evaluation of high‐resolution regional climate model simulations of snow cover and albedo over the Rocky Mountains, with implications for the simulated snow‐albedo feedback, Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, doi: 10.1002/2016JD024995.
  • 2016       Skiles, S.M., & T.H. Painter. Daily evolution in dust and black carbon content, snow grain size, and snow albedo during snowmelt, Rocky Mountains, Colorado, Journal of Glaciology, doi: 10.1017/jog.2016.125.
  • 2016       Skiles, S.M., T.H. Painter, G.S. Okin. A method to retrieve the spectral complex refractive index and single scattering optical properties of dust deposited in mountain snow, Journal of Glaciology, doi: 10.1017/jog.2016.126.
  • 2017       Casey, K.A., S.D. Kaspari, S.M. Skiles, K. Kreutz, M.J. Handley, Light absorbing particulates on snow: the spectral and chemical measurements of pollutant impacts on snow near South Pole, Antarctica, Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, in review.

Conference Proceedings
*indicates undergraduate author

  • 2016 Skiles, S.M., T.H. Painter, K. Bormann, Inter- and intra-annual variability in snow albedo, grain size, and snow covered area from the Airborne Snow Observatory during low snow years (2013-2015), Tuolumne River Basin, CA. Western Snow Conference Proceedings 2016.
  • 2017 Painter, T.H., S.M. Skiles, R.O. Green, F.C. Seidel, F.C., A. Nolin.Imaging spectroscopy to understand the controls on cryospheric melting in a changing world. IGARRS Proceedings 2017.
  • 2017 Skiles, S.M., S. Clark, J. Andreini*, M. Olson, Constraining Physical Controls on Snow Hydrology along the Wasatch Front, UT. Western Snow Conference Proceedings 2017.
  • 2017 Andreini, J.*, S.M. Skiles, M. Bunds, Using Structure from Motion to Map Snow Cover Variations in the Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah. Western Snow Conference Proceedings 2017.
  • 2017 Gherasim, J.*, S.M. Skiles, A Spatial and Temporal Analysis of Snow Albedo, Impurities, and Radiative Forcing across a Regional Scale in the Western United States. Western Snow Conference Proceedings 2017.
  • 2017 Peterson, H.*, S.M. Skiles, Trends in Snow Line Elevation along the Wasatch Front, Utah from MODIS Fractional Snow Covered Area. Western Snow Conference Proceedings 2017.
  • 2017 Saldivar, J.*, S.M. Skiles, Tracking Snow Accumulation Based on Storm Trajectory and Mountain Topography. Western Snow Conference Proceedings 2017.