Dust-Drought Nexus in the Southwestern United States: A Proxy-Model Comparison Approach

S. H. Arcusa, N. P. McKay, C. M. Carrillo, T. R. Ault

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The U.S. Southwest is naturally prone to dust and drought. With a high risk of unprecedented drought in the future due to climate change, changes in the dust cycle are expected. Whereas paleo records of dust deposition from the region suggest that past megadroughts did not coincide with elevated dust levels, modern studies indicate higher dust during drier conditions. To examine this disagreement, we compare regional paleo records to output from the Community Earth System Model Last Millennium Ensemble experiment. We investigate the role of hydroclimate on dust emissions in the model and analyze how modeled dust during megadroughts compares to all other years. We find that bare ground, as directly modulated by the density of vegetation cover and indirectly by hydroclimate, is the primary control on simulated dust emissions in the Southwest. Furthermore, we find slightly (but significantly) higher dust emission during megadroughts than during years without megadroughts in the model. Using a simple forward modeling approach to assess the impact of age uncertainty in the regional dust records, we find that age uncertainty can explain most of the paleo data/model disagreement. The remaining difference could be related to processes that are not included in the model that inhibit dust emissions during drought, including brown vegetation and soil crusts. Our results suggest the dust-drought nexus is a continuum and that the impact of drought on dust cycling is subtle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020PA004046
JournalPaleoceanography and Paleoclimatology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • U.S. Southwest
  • age uncertainty
  • drought
  • dust
  • paleo model/data comparison

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Palaeontology


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