By Dan Shapley
Dust kicked up by farming, mining causes mountain spring to come early
A new study in Colorado finds that dust kicked up by farming, grazing, mining and even recreation blankets mountain snow caps, causing a more rapid melting each spring. Spring came a month earlier to parts of the San Juan Mountains this spring, in great part due to the dust's heat absorbing factor. The study opens up another potential warming feedback loop, it would seem. If dust rising off of farm fields causes a more rapid snow melt in the mountains, then farms will be sustained by less moisture, causing more dusty conditions that increase snow melt. The study has implications for mountainous regions around the world, though the solutions to the problem aren't evident. Better controlling erosion by careful planting of cover crops is one possibility, as dust used to be tamped down naturally by Plains grasses, according to a story in the June 26 Rocky Mountain News.