Posted by: Green Knight | May 8, 2010

dust in the wind

The latest issue of Discover magazine (May 2010, with the moon on the cover) has a fascinating albeit mostly depressing article on desertification.  As an earth science guy, I’ve been following the problem since the mid-80s, but it’s a more complex situation than I’d realized.  I knew that dust blowing across oceans can have a beneficial impact, replenishing nutrients for marine life and rain forests far away, but the mechanisms behind grasslands turning to shrublands were more involved than just overgrazing and poor farming practices.  For example, poisoning coyotes and prairie dogs has led to an increase in jackrabbits, who eat grass that otherwise holds the soil in place and aids in replenishing groundwater.  The depletion of aquifers (lowering the water table), is something I was well aware of, but now I know more about it.  And dust blown on top of snowpack and glaciers absorbs more solar radiation, causing more melting, which I really needed to hear.  We need a few more arrows in our sustainable-agriculture quiver.  Dust Bowl II won’t be as entertaining as the Super Bowl, lemme tell ya (and I don’t like sports anyway).

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