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Synergistic soil, land use, and climate influences on wind erosion on the Colorado Plateau: Implications for management

June 1, 2023

Two decades of drought in the southwestern USA are spurring concerns about increases in wind erosion, dust emissions, and associated impacts on ecosystems, agriculture, human health, and water supply. Different avenues of investigation into primary drivers of wind erosion and dust have yielded mixed results depending on the spatial and temporal sensitivity of the evidence. We monitored passive aeolian sediment traps from 2017 to 2020 across eighty-one sites near Moab UT to understand patterns of sediment flux. At measurement sites we collated climate, soil, topography and vegetation spatial layers to better understand the context of wind erosion and then combine these data with field observations of land use in models to characterize the influence of cattle grazing, oil and gas well pads, and vehicle/heavy equipment disturbance that potentially drive both exposure of bare soil and increases in erodible sediment supply that increase vulnerability to erosion. Disturbed areas with low soil calcium carbonate content yielded high sediment transport in dry years, but notably areas with little disturbance and low bare soil exposure had much less activity. Cattle grazing had the largest land use association with erosional activity with analyses suggesting that both herbivory and trampling from cattle could be drivers. The amount and distribution of bare soil exposure from new sub-annual fractional cover remote sensing products proved very helpful in mapping erosion, and new predictive maps informed by field data are presented to help depict spatial patterns of wind erosion activity. Our results suggest that despite the magnitude of current droughts, minimizing surface disturbance in vulnerable soils can mitigate a large portion of dust emissions. Results can help managers identify eroding areas where disturbance reduction and soil surface protection measures can be prioritized.

Publication Year 2023
Title Synergistic soil, land use, and climate influences on wind erosion on the Colorado Plateau: Implications for management
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.164605
Authors Travis W. Nauman, Seth M. Munson, Saroj Dhital, Nicholas P. Webb, Michael C. Duniway
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science of the Total Environment
Index ID 70245207
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center