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

May 10, 2019
Quantifying Decision Uncertainty in Water Management via a Coupled Agent-Based Model
Considering risk perception can improve the representation of human decision-making processes in age [more...]

May 09, 2019
Projecting Global Urban Area Growth Through 2100 Based on Historical Time Series Data and Future Scenarios
Study provides country-specific urban area growth models and the first dataset on country-level urba [more...]

May 05, 2019
Calibrating Building Energy Demand Models to Refine Long-Term Energy Planning
A new, flexible calibration approach improved model accuracy in capturing year-to-year changes in bu [more...]

May 03, 2019
Calibration and Uncertainty Analysis of Demeter for Better Downscaling of Global Land Use and Land Cover Projections
Researchers improved the Demeter model’s performance by calibrating key parameters and establi [more...]

Apr 22, 2019
Representation of U.S. Warm Temperature Extremes in Global Climate Model Ensembles
Representation of warm temperature events varies considerably among global climate models, which has [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)