Monday, April 12, 2010

Climate Change and Concern about Another Dust Storm

An article in the USA Today explores the possibility of another major dust storm in our lifetime, such as the one in the Dust Bowl period. It focuses across parts of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma where Gary McManus, a climatologist for the region, states that the area is already so dry "that just a small increase in average temperatures could quickly cause critical amounts of moisture in the soil to evaporate." Furthermore, the Ogallala Aquifer by which the area is supported is being diminished due to the increased demand from agriculture and surrounding cities. However, Larry Thorton, an editor of the Muleshoe Journal, believes "living on an arid plateau plagued by tumbleweeds and tornadoes has taught people they can overcome just about anything." For me, it's unclear how they'll overcome the problem of water deprivation in the future. Many local farmers, though, have taken steps to reduce their water use by changing their irrigation methods; some have even resorted to "dryland farming" relying on the land's precipitation, 17"yearly, since their wells have become dry. Also another goal of the region that affects moisture availability is the removal of salt cedar trees planted to prevent soil erosion, yet the trees have been found to absorb huge amounts of water which decrease ground water levels. The possibility of another dust storm period is unclear given low water availability and a warming climate. But many farmers are confident in denying this prediction due to their "better farming techniques" and knowledge of what to expect based on past events. I think it's critical for the area to consider not only the possible reoccurrence of a dust storm, but also and most importantly their water resource strain. The article further predicts the migration of the population if the land can no longer support life. In my opinion, this will put an even greater strain on other state's resources as well causing further future problems.

"On Plains, concern about another Dust Bowl"

"Non-native Invasive Freshwater Plants"


  1. This could possibly be a large concern, and the salt cedar trees, although the amount of water they absorb was not mentioned, as well as other flora participation or degradation could cause another situation. Desertification happens for many reasons such as, poor grazing management, incorrect irrigation practices and destruction of trees often for fuelwood, cultivation of high risk crops and oh my god now Global warming haha.

    Ok but seriously there are more reasons than that an interesting account of what could have caused the original "dust bowl" was not the fault of any american, it could have been a naturally occurring systematic feature of the atlantic ocean according to NASA researchers. here's the quick quote on it...

    "Scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center recently used a computer model and satellite data to examine climate over the past century. In the study, cooler than normal tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures and warmer than normal tropical Atlantic Ocean temperatures created ideal drought conditions due to the unstable sea surface temperatures. The result was dry air and high temperatures in the Midwest from about 1931 to 1939."

    This lowered the normal supply of moist air from the jet stream in the gulf of mexico and coupled with record low winds rainfall was greatly reduced in the midwest region.

  2. This article definitely concerns me as well. The economic and social devastation caused by the dust bowl was catastrophic especially when paired with the great depression. In this recession talk of another dust bowl is especially unsettling. I think one thing you highlighted that is especially important is the need to rethink our techniques of irrigation and of farming. Although advances in technology have led to great changes in the farming industry, I think that our methods are still pretty basic as far as sustaining land and resources. The impact that science and study of land and resources could lead to more sustainable methods of water and land use.

  3. To find ourselves in a new age dust bowl would be staggeringly detrimental to the economy which is still in recovery. With growing populations comes need for greater food production, decreased food production will have a greater effect on a more needy population

  4. There is no argument that the Ogalla aquifer is being depleted. Torrential midwest downpours, no matter how intense, can not recharge this aquifer back to where it needs to be to meet the demand of agriculture for the midwest. I think water is quickly becoming on of the most scarce resources on the planet. As the population increases and land-development increases, demand for agriculture and water will increase as well pulling more water from the water tables in the midwest. Sprinklers are a very inefficient way of watering and that is all I see when I drive through the midwest. Perhaps more efficient watering practices need to be used.

  5. One of the effects of climate change is increased precipitation, which may help mitigate the effects of a draught. Furthermore, with the food producing technologies we have today such as chemically enhanced fertilizers I wonder how much a decrease in water availability would really have on agricultural production. Additionally, this may help encourage the government to reduce subsidies on cheap agricultural products such as corn and soy beans which ruin the soil and encourage the production of more nutrient enhancing prodcuts through organic farming.

  6. While another major dust storm would undoubtedly have negative consequences on American farmers, I think that the devastation would not be any where near as bad as the Dust Bowl. With technological innovation and new farming practices developed over the past century, I think that a major dust storm would not be a economically crippling event. A major dust storm would likely effect individual farmers, but as economy as a whole, I think the American agriculture would now be able to withstand such an event.

  7. From everything I've read about the Ogallala aquifer, Climate change isn't really the issue. The water is being depleted faster than it can be replenished and it WILL run out. When this happens, the ranches and farms irrigated with its water will go dry and turn to dust once again. It can be prevented by lowering the stress on the aquifer or by abandoning some of the ranches ahead of time and letting them convert to native plants, but otherwise it's going to happen. Climate change will speed up the process, but the real issue is overuse of water in an arid region.


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