BER launches Environmental System Science Program. Visit our new website under construction!

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 and

PNNL highlight:

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-33.1 Earth 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

Mar 23, 2021
Molecular Connections from Plants to Fungi to Ants
Lipids transfer energy and serve as an inter-kingdom communication tool in leaf-cutter ants&rsqu [more...]

Mar 19, 2021
Microbes Use Ancient Metabolism to Cycle Phosphorus
Microbial cycling of phosphorus through reduction-oxidation reactions is older and more widespre [more...]

Feb 22, 2021
Warming Soil Means Stronger Microbe Networks
Soil warming leads to more complex, larger, and more connected networks of microbes in those soi [more...]

Jan 27, 2021
Labeling the Thale Cress Metabolites
New data pipeline identifies metabolites following heavy isotope labeling.

Analysis [more...]

Aug 31, 2020
Novel Bacterial Clade Reveals Origin of Form I Rubisco

  • All plant biomass is sourced from the carbon-fixing enzyme Rub [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)