Wind erosion and dust from US drylands: a review of causes, consequences, and solutions in a changing world

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Erosion by wind is one of the principal processes associated with land degradation in drylands and is a significant concern to land managers and policymakers globally. In the drylands of North America, millions of tons of soil are lost to wind erosion annually. Of the 60 million ha in the United States identified as most vulnerable to wind erosion (arid and dominated by fine sandy soils), 64% are managed by federal agencies (37 million ha). Here we review the drivers and consequences of wind erosion and dust emissions on drylands in the United States, with an emphasis on actionable responses available to policymakers and practitioners. We find that while dryland soils are often relatively stable when intact, disturbances including fire, domestic livestock grazing, and off-highway vehicles can increase horizontal eolian flux by an order of magnitude, in some cases as much as 40-fold. A growing body of literature documents the large-scale impacts of deposited dust changing the albedo of mountain snow cover and in some cases reducing regional water supplies by ~5%. Predicted future increases in aridity and extreme weather events, including drought, will likely increase wind erosion and consequent dust generation. Under a drier and more variable future climate, new and existing soil- and vegetation-disturbing practices may interact in synergistic ways, with dire consequences for environments and society that are unforeseen to many but fairly predictable given current scientific understanding. Conventional restoration and reclamation approaches, which often entail surface disturbance and rely on adequate moisture to prevent erosion, also carry considerable erosion risk especially under drought conditions. Innovative approaches to dryland restoration that minimize surface disturbance may accomplish restoration or reclamation goals while limiting wind erosion risk. Finally, multidisciplinary and multijurisdictional approaches and perspectives are necessary to understand the complex processes driving dust emissions and provide timely, context-specific information for mitigating the drivers and impacts of wind erosion and dust.




Duniway, M. C., Pfennigwerth, A. A., Fick, S. E., Nauman, T. W., Belnap, J., & Barger, N. N. (2019). Wind erosion and dust from US drylands: a review of causes, consequences, and solutions in a changing world. Ecosphere, 10(3).

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