A Little Dust Goes a Long Way


lfw_N1J_DSC_1046_All that effort that growers have put in to dust control?  As it turns out, that dust is a good thing, to some of the life forms in our world.  Scientists have learned that dust is a vital source of nutrition for the trees at high elevations – really high up trees, like those gnarly-looking Bristlecone pines way up in the Sierras and the Great Basin region.  

Research scientists from the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Wyoming, and from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan, have been looking at nutrition sources for trees in mountain ecosystems.  They found that dust-derived nutrients can be vital to those trees that live on or near bedrock, at alpine levels where erosion is a slow process.  the trees gain more of their nutrition from the dust that blows in, than from the minuscule amounts released by erosion of the bedrock.

In the California Sierras, where the study was conducted, about half the dust could be traced by their isotopes to the Western US. Obviously, farming in the central valley is a dusty business.  However, the testing also showed that the California mountains get a lot of their dust from China.  

As it turns out, there are millions of tons of dust in the atmosphere, moving around the globe, pretty much the same way that moisture does.  Just as rain storms start in the Pacific and bring us rain and snow here in North America, dust from Asia and Africa gets picked up and blown over the seas and deposited on the land.  

Have you ever been in a Haboob?  That’s what some people call a dust storm, which are common on the world’s deserts.  They happen  in the same way on the Sahara, in the Middle east, Australia, and the American southwest.  The dust cloud can be 50 miles wide, thousands of feet tall, and travel a hundred or more miles.  The lightest particles stay airborne for weeks or months, sometimes circling the globe, until they come to rest and are absorbed into the soil somewhere.  Strange to think that grain of sand you swept off your tractor seat might have started out in Africa or China.

So, once again, we see that Farming Feeds The World, But also, those Mountain Goats. Marmots, Chipmunks, and other critters up there are getting half their diet from Chinese food, in a roundabout way.  It truly is a small world.


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