Sunday, February 24, 2008

Dust out west

“I’m a dustbowl refugee,” went the old song. But apparently dusty conditions aren’t confined to sepia-toned prints fetched from far in the past, according to this article from Reuters. Human activity has led to far more airborne dust for the last century and a half in the U.S. west: ..."We have a lot of dust in the air in the western U.S.," said Jason Neff of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who led the study. "It's a reasonable question to ask -- whether or not that dust is related to human activity. This study pretty clearly shows that a large amount of the dust that's in the atmosphere is related to the legacy of land use and contemporary human uses of the landscape."

Neff's team drilled about 3 feet (1 meter) into the sediment at Porphyry Lake and Senator Beck Lake, both situated about 13,000 feet above sea level on a ridgeline between the towns of Telluride and Silverton, Colorado.

The study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, is the latest to demonstrate the dramatic impact that people are having on the environment in the western United States. Last month, other scientists reported that human-caused climate change has altered river flows, snow pack and air temperatures, with a water supply crisis looming in the western United States as a result.

Neff said other recent research showed that wind-blown dust cut the duration of San Juan Mountains snow cover by a month, causing an earlier spring snowmelt -- with major implications for agriculture and urban water consumption….

Dust storm engulfing Stratford Texas, 1935, from NOAA George E. Marsh album, Wikimedia Commons.

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