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The spectre of the disastrous events of the 1930s is raised for the US Midwest, thanks in some measure to the change in land use brought about by subsidised biofuel production, according to this study. Another own goal for climate alarmist ideology?
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Got any spaces left on that 2020 bingo card? Pencil in “another Dust Bowl in the Great Plains”, suggests Phys.org.
A study from University of Utah researchers and their colleagues finds that atmospheric dust levels are rising across the Great Plains at a rate of up to 5% per year.
The trend of rising dust parallels expansion of cropland and seasonal crop cycles, suggesting that farming practices are exposing more soil to wind erosion.
And if the Great Plains becomes drier, a possibility under climate change scenarios, then all the pieces are in place for a repeat of the Dust Bowl that devastated the Midwest in the 1930s.
“We can’t make changes to the earth surface without some kind of consequence just as we can’t burn fossil fuels without consequences,” says Andy Lambert, lead author of the study and a recent U graduate. “So while the agriculture industry is absolutely important, we need to think more carefully about where and how we plant.”
The research is published in Geophysical Research Letters and was funded by the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative, the Global Change and Sustainability Center at the University of Utah, and the Associated Students of the University of Utah.
The first Dust Bowl
In the 1930s, a drought blanketed the Great Plains, from Mexico to Canada. This wouldn’t have been such a big deal except that in the 1920s Midwestern farmers had converted vast tracts of grassland into farmland using mechanical plows.
When the crops failed in the drought the open areas of land that used to be covered by grass, which held soil tightly in place, were now bare dirt, vulnerable to wind erosion.
“The result was massive dust storms that we associate with the Dust Bowl,” Lambert says. “These dust storms removed nutrients from the soil, making it more difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur.”
After years of drought, dust and hardship, rain finally began to fall again, bringing the Dust Bowl to a close.
“But the damage was already done to the soil,” Lambert says. “Some areas have still not fully recovered.”
Around the 2000s, the growth in demand for biofuels spurred renewed expansion of farmland to produce the needed crops. In an echo of the 1920s, this expansion replaced stable grasslands with vulnerable soil.
Over five years, from 2006 to 2011, 2046 square miles (530,000 hectares) of grassland in five Midwestern states became farmland—an area a little smaller than Delaware.
At the same time, parts of the Great Plains experienced longer and more severe droughts in the 20th century.
The future of drought in that region is, so far, uncertain, but the potential for a warmer, drier Great Plains has Lambert and co-author Gannet Hallar, associate professor of atmospheric sciences, bringing up the word “desertification” in relation to the potential future of the region.
Full article here.
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