Alexandra Ponette-González is fascinated by dust. She is also interested in black carbon, fog, and air pollution. A new paper on Ponette-González's research on "dusty rain" was recently published in the American Geophysical Union's Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, entitled Wet Dust Deposition across Texas during the 2012 Drought: An Overlooked Pathway for Elemental Flux to Ecosystems.
"You know the dust you sometimes get on your car after a Texas rainstorm, it's not necessarily a bad thing," said Alexandra Ponette-González, an associate professor in the University of North Texas Department of Geography and the Environment. Her remarkable research marks the first time that the composition, frequency, and amount of dust in rainwater has ever been quantified in Texas.
The research was a collaborative venture across many disciplines. Ponette-González, Gary A. Glass, professor of physics at UNT, Kathleen C. Weathers, senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Joe D. Collins, assistant professor of geomorphology at Middle Tennesee State University, and Thomas E. Gill, a professor with both the Department of Geological Sciences and the Environmental Science and Engineering Program at the University of Texas - El Paso, studied rainwater samples collected during the major 2012 drought in Texas to determine which ones had dust in them and what the dust contained. They found that dusty rains delivered huge amounts of nutrients and pollutants across the state. In addition, Ponette-González and her collaborators found that dust on the Texas Gulf Coast had traveled to Texas from as far away as North Africa's Sahara Desert and Mexico's Chihuahuan desert.
"Dust is an important phenomenon in the natural world," said Ponette-González. "After it is lifted from the ground, it can travel long distances, even around the world, in rain, carrying everything from plant nutrients, like phosphorus and iron, to pollutants, like copper and zinc."
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Photo used with permission by Joseph Rogash, National Weather Service.