TIP: Experts on drought and dust

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Source: Soil Science Society of America

In the 1930s, severe drought in the United States coupled with widespread soil degradation from unsound farming practices led to the Dust Bowl—a period of massive dust storms that caused damage to millions of acres of farmland and forced hundreds of thousands of people to abandon their homes.

Now that a host of soil conservation measures are in place, the Dust Bowl is mainly thought of as a singular event in U.S. history with little chance of happening again. But its uniqueness has recently been called into question, especially in light of the devastating U.S. droughts of 2011 and 2012. What these events indicate is that Dust Bowl-like droughts and conditions do still occur; in fact, their frequency may be increasing due to climate change, scientists say.

So, what can we learn from these events, how are they affecting us now, and what can we do to prepare for similar events in the future? Below is a list of speakers at the recent ASA, CSSA, SSSA annual meetings who are available to discuss these questions with the media.

Brenda Buck, University of Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV

As more land is developed for housing, recreation, and farming, dust is on the rise in the United States, especially in the arid Southwest. Buck, a medical geologist, can discuss the impacts of dust on human health, including her recent discovery of high arsenic levels in dust from the Nellis Dunes’ Recreation Area outside Las Vegas, and her work on an asbestos-like mineral in certain dusts with the potential to cause cancer. 702-895-1694; buckb@unlv.nevada.edu

Jerry Hatfield, USDA-ARS, National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, Ames, IA

Hatfield, a plant physiologist, can discuss the soil management practices that make us better off today than during the 1930s Dust Bowl, and the new management factors farmers may need to consider as they sow crops following this year’s extraordinary drought and beyond. 515-294-5723; jerry.hatfield@ars.usda.gov

Chuck Rice, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS

A member of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, Rice is an expert the impacts of global climate change on soils, including the effects of frequent droughts and other extreme weather, such as flooding. He can also discuss the magnitude and impacts of the 2012 U.S. drought, and ways that we can adapt to and potentially mitigate the impacts of such events in the future. 785-587-7215; cwrice@ksu.edu

Dennis Todey, South Dakota State University, Extension State Climatologist, Brookings, SD

As South Dakota’s State Climatologist, Todey not only works on the current impacts of drought, but can also talk about the similarities and differences between this summer’s drought and the drought that contributed to the 1930s Dust Bowl. He can also explain how the 2012 drought developed and why it ended up being so severe despite adequate rainfall in many areas this spring. 605-688-5678; dennis.todey@sdstate.edu

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