Drier conditions projected to accelerate dust storms in the southwest

Feb 25, 2011

Drier conditions projected to result from climate change in the Southwest will likely reduce perennial vegetation cover and result in increased dust storm activity in the future, according to a new study by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of California, Los Angeles.

The research team examined climate, vegetation and measurements collected over a 20-year period in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in southeastern Utah. Long-term data indicated that perennial vegetation in grasslands and some shrublands declined with temperature increases. The study then used these soil and vegetation measurements in a model to project future wind erosion.

The findings strongly suggest that sustained across the Southwest will accelerate loss of grasses and some shrubs and increase the likelihood of dust production on disturbed soil surfaces in the future. However, the community of cyanobacteria, mosses and lichens that hold the soil together in many semiarid and arid environments—biological soil crusts—prevented wind erosion from occurring at most sites despite reductions in perennial vegetation.

"Accelerated rates of dust emission from wind erosion have large implications for natural systems and human well-being, so developing a better understanding of how may affect wind erosion in arid landscapes is an important and emerging area of research," said Seth Munson, a USGS ecologist and the study's lead author.

Dust carried by the wind has received recent attention because of its far-reaching effects, including the loss of nutrients and water-holding capacity from source landscapes, declines in agricultural productivity and health and safety concerns. is also a contributing factor in speeding up the melting of snow, which affects the timing and magnitude of runoff into streams and rivers.

Explore further: Pact with devil? California farmers use oil firms' water

More information: Results of the study, Responses of wind erosion to climate-induced vegetation changes on the Colorado Plateau, appear in this week's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. To view the article, visit www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/02/16/1014947108.abstract

Related Stories

Study: Heavy rains can produce more dust

Oct 26, 2005

A recent NASA study of some of Earth's dustiest areas indicates heavy downpours can eventually lead to more dust being released into the atmosphere.

Scientists vacuum up the data on dust

Feb 20, 2010

(AP) -- While most people give it the brushoff, a panel of scientists gathered Friday to focus on dust. Dust in the air. Dust in the oceans. Dust in your lungs. Good dust. Bad dust. And not a can of Pledge in sight.

Recommended for you

Gimmicks and technology: California learns to save water

Jul 03, 2015

Billboards and TV commercials, living room visits, guess-your-water-use booths, and awards for water stinginess—a wealthy swath of Orange County that once had one of the worst records for water conservation ...

Cities, regions call for 'robust' world climate pact

Jul 03, 2015

Thousands of cities, provinces and states from around the world urged national governments on Thursday to deliver a "robust, binding, equitable and universal" planet-saving climate pact in December.

Will climate change put mussels off the menu?

Jul 03, 2015

Climate change models predict that sea temperatures will rise significantly, including in the tropics. In these areas, rainfall is also predicted to increase, reducing the salt concentration of the surface ...

As nations dither, cities pick up climate slack

Jul 02, 2015

Their national governments hamstrung by domestic politics, stretched budgets and diplomatic inertia, many cities and provinces have taken a leading role—driven by necessity—in efforts to arrest galloping ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.