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Identifying sources of aeolian mineral dust: Present and past

September 9, 2014

Aeolian mineral dust is an important component of the Earth’s environmental systems, playing roles in the planetary radiation balance, as a source of fertilizer for biota in both terrestrial and marine realms and as an archive for understanding atmospheric circulation and paleoclimate in the geologic past. Crucial to understanding all of these roles of dust is the identification of dust sources. Here we review the methods used to identify dust sources active at present and in the past. Contemporary dust sources, produced by both glaciogenic and non-glaciogenic processes, can be readily identified by the use of Earth-orbiting satellites. These data show that present dust sources are concentrated in a global dust belt that encompasses large topographic basins in low-latitude arid and semiarid regions. Geomorphic studies indicate that specific point sources for dust in this zone include dry or ephemeral lakes, intermittent stream courses, dune fields, and some bedrock surfaces. Back-trajectory analyses are also used to identify dust sources, through modeling of wind fields and the movement of air parcels over periods of several days. Identification of dust sources from the past requires novel approaches that are part of the geologic toolbox of provenance studies. Identification of most dust sources of the past requires the use of physical, mineralogical, geochemical, and isotopic analyses of dust deposits. Physical properties include systematic spatial changes in dust deposit thickness and particle size away from a source. Mineralogy and geochemistry can pinpoint dust sources by clay mineral ratios and Sc-Th-La abundances, respectively. The most commonly used isotopic methods utilize isotopes of Nd, Sr, and Pb and have been applied extensively in dust archives of deep-sea cores, ice cores, and loess. All these methods have shown that dust sources have changed over time, with far more abundant dust supplies existing during glacial periods. Greater dust supplies in glacial periods are likely due to greater production of glaciogenic dust particles from expanded ice sheets and mountain glaciers, but could also include dust inputs from exposed continental and insular shelves now submerged. Future dust sources are difficult to assess, but will likely differ from those of the present because of global warming. Global warming could bring about shifts in dust sources by changes in degree or type of vegetation cover, changes in wind strength, and increases or decreases in the size of water bodies. A major uncertainty in assessing dust sources of the future is related to changes inhuman land use, which could affect land surface cover, particularly due to increased agricultural endeavors and water usage.

Publication Year 2014
Title Identifying sources of aeolian mineral dust: Present and past
DOI 10.1007/978-94-017-8978-3
Authors Daniel R Muhs, Joseph M Prospero, Matthew C Baddock, Thomas E Gill
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70059134
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center