About these ads

Global warming: Desert dust storms to get worse

U.S. Geological Survey, UCLA study shows loss of vegetation in the Southwest will lead to more frequent and intense dust storms

Desert dust shows up in the snowpack at Loveland Pass, Colorado.

Dust storms like this one captured by a NASA satellite are predicted to get worse as global warming kills desert vegetation.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Desert dust blowing from the Southwest into the Rockies has been implicated in everything from earlier snowmelt and air quality violations to causing avalanches.

A new study shows  the storms more frequent and intense as global warming kills desert vegetation.

A research team from the U.S. Geological Survey and UCLA looked at climate, vegetation and soil 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 drought conditions 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 climate change 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. Dust is also a contributing factor in speeding up the melting of snow, which affects the timing and magnitude of runoff into streams and rivers.

Peak wind speeds in the Southwest during the study period generated high rates of sediment transport. Dust storms have been detected by USGS field instrumentation and satellite images.

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. The research team included Seth Munson and Jayne Belnap, U.S. Geological Survey, Moab, Utah, and Gregory S. Okin, Department of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles.

About these ads

One Response

  1. [...] Certainly, the Colorado Plateau is defined by its contrasts, but there’s been a certain harmony in all this.  The irony with coal is that is stands to overshadow even this region’s rich contradictions, especially global warming makes this land ever drier, hotter, even dustier. [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,384 other followers

%d bloggers like this: