Wind Erosion and Dust Emissions on the Colorado Plateau

Southwest Biological Science Center
Posted on: 7/18/2022 - Updated on: 11/07/2023

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Wind erosion of soils and dust emissions are a significant resource management challenge on the Colorado Plateau. Loss of topsoil and associated aeolian sediment (wind-driven sediment) movement can lead to reduced soil fertility as well as abrasion and burial of vegetation. Dust in the atmosphere poses a threat to human health, visual resources, and regional water supplies (due to interactions with mountain snowpack). Erosion of surface soils and subsequent emissions of dust are greatly influenced by land-use practices and climate, especially drought.

In this project, the U.S. Geological Survey and collaborators are monitoring aeolian sediment movement, atmospheric dust concentrations, and related erosion and dust properties to better understand the relationship between land use (grazing by domestic livestock, unpaved roads, off highway vehicles, and oil and gas development), climate variability, and aeolian processes. Results show that dust emissions increase during drought, but these increases in erosion processes are exacerbated with common land use types, especially off-road vehicle activity.

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