Utah Wilderness News, September 21, 2010

USGS & NASA: Colo. Plateau dust causing early snowmelt; reduction could mitigate climate change

Dust caused by human activities in the American desert Southwest is a contributing factor in speeding up the melting of snow and reducing runoff in the mountains of the Colorado River basin, according to a new study led by NASA and co-authored by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The findings have major implications for the 27 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico who rely on the Colorado River for drinking, agricultural and industrial water. The research shows that peak spring runoff comes as much as 3 weeks earlier than before the region was settled and soils were disturbed, but also that runoff may be decreased by more than 5 percent a year compared to pre-settlement levels.

“Reducing dust loads in this area and in similar mountainous areas around the world may help lessen regional effects of climate change,” said Jayne Belnap, a USGS desert soil expert and a co-author of the study. Read more–U.S. Geological Survey

Would curbing desert dust help the Colorado River?

…Dust has already decreased since 1934, when the Taylor Grazing Act limited the amount of grazing allowed on public lands. Scientists have previously analyzed lake deposits and found that dust production fell about a quarter as a result, Painter said.

But finding the collective will these days to cut dust emissions further would not be easy. Potential measures include banning the use of ATVs and further restrictions on grazing. “I can’t see too many politicians with enough backbone to make it work,” Williams said. Read more–L.A. Times Greenspace

Human-produced dust melting Colorado snow three weeks earlier, say scientists

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Monday announced that a NASA-funded study showed that dust produced by human activities is reducing the Colorado River flow.

The human-produced dust provoked that snow is melting in the Colorado River basin earlier, reducing runoff and the amount of crucial water available downstream. The dust has been accumulating for the last 150 years. Read more–BNO News

Windborne dust on high peaks dampens Colorado River runoff

On spring winds, something wicked this way comes–at least for the mountains of the Colorado River Basin and their ecosystems, and for people who depend on snowmelt from these mountains as a regional source of water.

“More than 80 percent of sunlight falling on fresh snow is reflected back to space,” says scientist Tom Painter of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the University of
California at Los Angeles. “But sprinkle some dark particles on the snow and that number drops dramatically.” Read more–ScienceBlog