Geomorphology of the Chihuahuan Desert based on potential dust emissions

The Chihuahuan Desert of central northern Mexico and southern Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, USA, is a regionally significant dust 'hot-spot' in North America. Typical of other such hot-spots, this desert consists of a mosaic of geomorphological settings, each of which has a varying propensity for dust emission. Recently, a classification system of dust emission potential based on surface geomorphic characteristics that establishes a common framework for describing the land surface has been proposed. The classification is readily applicable to different dust source regions and designed to facilitate comparison of the relative potential dust contributions and emissivity of varying geomorphological environments in such regions. The map here (1:3,500,000) was compiled by applying the new classification to a base map of polygons from existing soil and landform maps that were produced by national government agencies. Within the study area, 11 of the 17 possible geomorphic classes were present, the most extensive being unarmoured, unincised high relief alluvial surfaces, which covered 43% of the area. As an example of how empirical dust source point data can be used with the classification, the satellite-observed origins of dust plumes for 26 major wind erosion events from 2001 to 2009 were overlain on the map. Despite a total area of only 4%, ephemeral lakes were the source of 48% of the observed plumes. This map and the relationships derived from it provide the basis for developing equivalent maps in other dusty regions, and mark a step toward improving the representation and documentation of the strength of dust sources in numerical mineral aerosol models.

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CC BY-NC-ND 4.0