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Desert Diary
Climate/African Dust


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The Chihuahuan Desert is well known for its spring winds and accompanying dust storms. Most old timers have their favorite stories of how bad things were back when they were growing up. Sort of a Southwestern take on the northerner's tale of how they had to walk to school barefoot in 5-foot snowdrifts. As much fun as such stories may be, we're slowly awakening to the idea that just maybe all of that dust in the air isn't from our region.

Now, we're dusty enough that people around here haven't looked much into dust sources. In wetter climes, though, people are finding that dust not only doesn't respect national boundaries (something we Southwesterners already knew), but refuses to be hobbled to a single continent. Africa contributes significant amounts of dust to the Caribbean and our southeast coast, and Hawaii is the receptor of wind-borne dust from Asia. It's not all that unlikely, then, that at least a few particles of the dust hurtling across our desert countryside has made a much longer journey than we'd ever guessed.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a production of KTEP, National Public Radio for the Southwest, at the University of Texas at El Paso.