A study published this week in Aeolian Research reveals that since 1994, the amount of dust that’s been generated and blown across some parts of the western US has “gone up a few hundred percent,” says University of Colorado-Boulder professor and study co-author Jason Neff. He and his team measured the amount of calcium appearing in rainfall using data from the National Atmospheric Deposition Program, which was begun in the 1970s to study acid rain. Neff says they focused on calcium “because a lot of desert soils contain [it]. When they blow up into the air, it dissolves into the rain and falls to the ground.”
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What’s the Big Idea?
While it’s unlikely that the US will go through another dramatic Dust Bowl period like that which happened in the 1930s, elevated levels of dust can cause many problems for crop growers as well as for drivers and people with respiratory issues. Some possible causes for this uptick include off-road riding and urban development, according to the study. Combined with the recent drought, farmers in some of the hardest-hit areas — Neff names the Great Plains and areas in Oregon and Washington, among others — may have no other option but to hope for more rain.