Implications for Sustainability

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DUST DEPOSITION ON SNOW MENU: IntroductionPoints of Impact | Points of Origin | Current Situation | Historical Information | Implications for Sustainability | Future Outlook | Useful Links | Mass Media | Recommended Scientific Articles | References Cited

The following is a non-exhaustive list of implications to sustainability. This list covers possible issues arising from dust, dust deposition on snow, and earlier snowmelt.


Environmental Implications

  • The synchronization of plant growth creates an abundance of plant life at the beginning of the growing season. This creates competition among animal life and pollinators for limited resources (Steltzer et al., 2009).
  • Plant-eaters may find it more difficult to find an abundance of plant life throughout the summer months, affecting the possibility of reproduction (Steltzer et al., 2009).
  • Since nutrients in soil (eg nitrogen and phosphorus) are comparatively smaller than other material in soil, the nutrient content of the area where the dust is originating from will decrease while the nutrient content in areas where the dust is deposited will increase (Field et al., 2009).
  • Some plant life will flourish while others will diminish (NSF, 2009).
  • “Dust decreases snow albedo, removing snow cover earlier and revealing a markedly darker land surface that absorbs solar radiation and reradiates in the infrared to the atmosphere. The triggering of earlier and faster snowmelt by dust can potentially result in less total and less late-season water supplies in areas where seasonal water scarcity occurs” (Field et al., 2009).
  • “In stable soil surfaces on the Colorado Plateau, dust accumulation in soils has increased the stocks of all macro- and micronutrients, especially phosphorus and magnesium” (Field et al., 2009).
  • “Even small increases in the proportion of fine particles, or in some nutrients, may increase invasibility by exotic annual plants” (Reynolds et al., 2001).
  • “Earlier snowmelt may cause soil moisture to decline during summer, increasing drought stress in trees, making them more susceptible to wildfires and insect infestation” (Clow, 2009).
  • “Increases in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium — byproducts of ranching, mining and agricultural activity – have been shown to change water alkalinity, aquatic productivity and nutrient cycling” (EurekAlert, 2008).
  • “In the Niwot Ridge alpine region west of Boulder…CU-Boulder researchers have observed increased algal growth in streams and lakes as a result of rising nitrogen deposition, as well as changes in the composition and diversity of wildflowers on the tundra” (EurekAlert, 2008).


Economic Implications

  • Since the dust events degrade the recreational value of the snow, ski seasons may be cut short or interrupted and backcountry spring skiing is hindered.
  • “The dust is definitely trashing the snowpack,” says Lisa Branner of Silverton-based Venture Snowboards, “causing it to heat up, rot out and melt faster — shortening what could have been a great spring touring season” (Huffman, 2010)
  • Given that the runoff and peak flows occur earlier in the year, farmers may not receive enough water later in the summer months to irrigate their crops leading to less productivity (Riccardi, 2009).
  • Dust storms crossing I-40 in Arizona cause highway closings, preventing delivery trucks from making their scheduled deliveries.

    Dust storm on highway creates closure

    Dust storms greatly reduce visibility leading to highway closures–Courtesy of KXLY-TV, Spokane

  • “The closures on such a critical transportation artery have snarled freight and thrown delivery schedules into turmoil, said Karen Rasmussen, president of the Arizona Trucking Association” (Fuetsch, 2010).
  • “Over a period of six weeks this April and May, Interstate 40 was closed seven times between Winslow and Winona due to blowing dust that created gray-out conditions and toppled vehicles and signs. Last year, I-40 was closed five times” (Larmer, 2010).
  • “It’s also a big challenge for Colorado’s whitewater boating community and the industry credited with contributing $140 million annually to the state economy. A month earlier on the calendar, cold weather diminishes the appeal of river running. And stretching the season into warm summer months can become problematic after an early peak. Fishermen face similar problems as rivers warm and wane ahead of schedule” (Willoughby, 2010).
  • “The city’s [Aspen] water department has to spend more money in increased treatment chemicals to remove the dust, which resists coagulation. It makes its way through the city’s filters and is difficult to remove, according to city officials” (Sackariason, 2010).
  • “There are also broader implications as arid Western states wage costly legal battles over access to water supplies that are dwindling, in part, because of early snowmelt” (Streater, 2009).


Social Implications

  • “…the biggest impact is hydrologic. We’re seeing earlier and faster runoff, which makes it harder to manage resources. In the West, we depend on the snowpack as a reservoir. We can store a lot more water in the snowpack than in our surface reservoirs. If you melt everything off a month early and melt it off faster, that’s a big challenge for water managers” (Willoughby, 2010).
  • “Earlier snowmelt by desert dust depletes the natural water reservoirs of mountain snowpacks and in turn affects the delivery of water to urban and agricultural areas,” Painter said” (O’Donoghue, 2009).
  • “Arizona is ground zero for a nasty fungal infection called Valley Fever. People infected with the fever can be sick for weeks, or in more severe cases, half a year. The infection is specifically caused by spores carried in dust through the air. Cases spike during the Monsoon season” (Kuzj, 2010).
  • “Changes in snowmelt timing may affect water rights whose seniority varies with time of year. Stakeholders whose water rights are senior late in the year, but are more junior early in the year, may be losers under scenarios of increased springtime warming” (Clow, 2009).

  • “Blowing dust and brown-out conditions on Interstate 70 in eastern Colorado caused a massive traffic accident involving eight passenger cars and six tractor-trailer trucks, leaving two confirmed dead and multiple motorists with injuries, the Colorado State Patrol said this afternoon” (Pankratz, 2009).
  • “Excessive dust also can cause significant human health problems, including lung tissue damage, allergic reactions and respiratory problems, Neff said” (EurekAlert, 2008).

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DUST DEPOSITION ON SNOW MENU: IntroductionPoints of Impact | Points of Origin | Current Situation | Historical Information | Implications for Sustainability | Future Outlook | Useful Links | Mass Media | Recommended Scientific Articles | References Cited