Atmospheric Sciences Editors' Highlights

Dust in the Wind: Human Impacts to the Colorado Front Range

A recent increase in airborne dust has been attributed to both climate and land use, with human activity playing a substantial role, especially in summertime at low elevations.

Source: Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface


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Airborne dust plays an important role in biogeochemical cycling and climate feedbacks, and contributes to respiratory illnesses, traffic accidents, and infrastructure damage. Dust emission, and its economic and public-health consequences, are concerns across dry regions including northern and southern Africa, the middle East, central Asia, Australia, and the western United States.

In the western United States, dust emissions have been increasing over the past three decades due to warmer, drier climate and human land use that disrupts soil and vegetation, but the relative contributions of climate and land use remain uncertain. Heindel et al. [2020] provide new information on the seasonal timing and elevation of atmospheric dust in the Colorado Front Range, eastern Rocky Mountains.

Measuring airborne dust at nine sites spanning alpine to lowland elevations, the authors found a large contribution from anthropogenic dust sources, especially at low elevations. During fall and winter, dust was evidently sourced from the west side of the mountains, but larger dust fluxes in spring and summer were sourced primarily from regions to the east that are undergoing urbanization. Dust fluxes at the lower-elevation sites were some of the highest recorded for the Rocky Mountain region, and chemical analyses indicated that the dominant dust sources were urban and agricultural areas.

Identifying more clearly the human role in dust emissions can set the stage for more detailed monitoring and land-management practices that reduce these environmental impacts.

Citation: Heindel, R. C., Putman, A. L., Murphy, S. F., Repert, D. A., & Hinckley, E.‐L. S. [2020]. Atmospheric dust deposition varies by season and elevation in the Colorado Front Range, USA. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 125, e2019JF005436. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019JF005436

—Amy E. East, Editor in Chief, JGR: Earth Surface

Text © 2020. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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