Sunday, May 24, 2009

Western dust storms speed snowmelt, drought

Western dust storms threaten public health and water supplies in AZ and other states.

DENVER -- Important coverage in today's LA Times about how a big increase in human-influenced dust storms is dramatically speeding up snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains.

'Ever since European settlement of the West, there has been dust, caused by outside forces breaking the fragile crust that holds undisturbed desert soil in place. Initially, grazing cattle kicked up the dust. Scientists say it is now more likely to be caused by off-road vehicles, mountain bikers or energy exploration. In a study last year, Neff found that the amount of dust in the Rockies is five times greater than before the late 19th century.'

"This is really the story of the wholesale transformation of the West,"
said Thomas Painter, director of the Snow Optics Lab at the University of Utah.

'Even without the dust storms, forecasters predict that global warming will reduce the soil quality in the western United States to dust-bowl levels by 2050, said Jayne Belnap, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey. The Southwest's temperatures are expected to rise by 10 degrees Celsius by 2100.

"It's just a harbinger of the future," Belnap said of the dust storms. "This is the kind of world we need to imagine we're going to be living in and decide if we can afford this dust."

- adapted from LAT

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