U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights


Desert Dust Intensifies Summer Rainfall in U.S. Southwest
Published: April 24, 2012
Posted: August 20, 2012

DOE scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that dust kicked up from the desert floor acts like a heat pump in the atmosphere, fueling the annual climate system called the North American Monsoon (NAM). NAM occurs during June, July, and August over the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico and is characterized by surface heat and episodes of heavy rainfall. The region receives over 70 percent of its annual precipitation during these three months. The researchers used sophisticated simulation techniques to investigate the effect on the atmosphere of dust emitted from U.S. Southwest deserts to fuel the intensity of the monsoon system. The study simulated 15 years with dust emissions and 15 years without dust emissions, using the regional model WRF-Chem for the time period from 1995-2009, and compared the results with surface mass and satellite and surface aerosol optical depth observations. The enhanced dust increases precipitation by up to 40 percent during the summer rainy season in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The study, the first on the U.S. Southwest summer monsoon, found that the heat pump effect is consistent with how dust acts on West African and Asian monsoon regions. Understanding how dust contributes to atmospheric heating is important for predicting drought and rainfall patterns throughout the world.

Reference: Zhao, C., X. Liu, and L. R. Leung. 2012. "Impact of the Desert Dust on the Summer Monsoon System over Southwestern North America," Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 12, 3717-3731. DOI: 10.5194/acp-12-3717-2012. (Reference link)

SC highlight: "Dust Deserves More than the Brush-Off" at http://science.energy.gov and https://science.energy.gov/news/featured-articles/2012/06-27-12/.

PNNL highlight: http://www.pnl.gov/science/highlights/highlight.asp?id=1164.

Contact: Renu Joseph, SC-23.1, (301) 903-9237, Dorothy Koch, SC-23.1, (301) 903-0105
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER

 

BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)