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Geophysical Monograph Series



  • aeolian sand
  • dunes
  • climate change
  • desert
  • vegetation
  • Navajo

Index Terms

  • 1632 Global Change: Land cover change
  • 1809 Hydrology: Desertification
  • 1812 Hydrology: Drought
  • 1630 Global Change: Impacts of global change



Recent Seasonal Variations in Arid Landscape Cover and Aeolian Sand Mobility, Navajo Nation, Southwestern United States

Amy E. Draut

U.S. Geological Survey, Santa Cruz, California, USA

Margaret Hiza Redsteer

U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

Lee Amoroso

U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

The socioeconomic impacts of climate change pose problems not only in developing countries but also to residents of arid lands in the United States among marginalized societies with limited economic means. In the Navajo Nation, warming temperatures and recent drought have increased aeolian sediment mobility such that large, migrating sand dunes affect grazing lands, housing, and road access. Dust derived from this region also affects albedo and longevity of the Rocky Mountains snowpack, located downwind. We present initial results from a study that monitors sand transport and vegetation within a 0.2 km2 site in the Navajo lands, measuring the effects of drought on landscape stability since 2009. Sand mobility decreased substantially as 1 year with near-normal monsoon rainfall (2010) somewhat abated a decade-long drought, temporarily doubling vegetation cover. Vegetation that grew during 2010, with adequate rain, died off rapidly during dry conditions in 2011. Short-term increases in rainfall that promote annual, but not perennial, plant growth will not improve landscape stability in the long term. Climate projections suggest that a warmer, drier climate and potentially enhanced sediment supply from ephemeral washes will further increase aeolian sand transport and dune activity, worsening the present challenges to people living in this region. Connections among climate, vegetation, and aeolian sediment erodibility in this region are highly relevant to other areas of the world with similar environmental problems.

Citation: Draut, A. E., M. Hiza Redsteer, and L. Amoroso (2012), Recent seasonal variations in arid landscape cover and aeolian sand mobility, Navajo Nation, southwestern United States, in Climates, Landscapes, and Civilizations, Geophys. Monogr. Ser., vol. 198, edited by L. Giosan et al. 51–60, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/2012GM001214.


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