Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Sand Dunes Reveal Unexpected Dryness During Heavy Monsoon

08.10.2009
The windswept deserts of northern China might seem an odd destination for studying the heavy monsoon rains that routinely drench the more tropical regions of Southeast Asia.

But the sandy dunefields that mark the desert margin between greener pastures to the south and the Gobi Desert to the north are a rich source of information about past climates in Asia, says University of Wisconsin-Madison geographer Joseph Mason. Wetter periods allow vegetation to take root on and stabilize sand dunes. During dry spells, plants die off and the dunes are more active, constantly shifting as sand is blown away and replenished.

Such patterns of dune activity provide a history of the area’s climate — if one can read them, Mason says. “When did those periods of stability or activity occur and from that, what can we infer about climate change?”

As reported in a new paper in the October issue of the journal Geology, Mason and colleagues mapped sand dune activity across northern China and found unexpectedly high levels of mobility and change 8,000 to 11,500 years ago, a time period generally thought to have a wetter climate. The result challenges existing ideas about the monsoon’s regional influence and could impact future climate predictions.

Today, the dunes are at the edge of the monsoon region and the scientists expected to find close correlation between precipitation in the dunefields and the strength of the monsoon.

What they found instead was rather surprising. “They turn out to be almost completely out of phase,” Mason says. “Where we find lots of active dunes turns out to be a time when the monsoon system is supposed to have been stronger in southern and central China.”

Part of the explanation may lie in local patterns of atmospheric circulation. At the peak of the summer monsoon, central China experiences both heavy summer rainfall and strong upward airflow. That upward flow tends to be balanced out by more downward air motion — which suppresses precipitation — in areas north and west of the monsoon core.

Regional climate modeling data from the UW-Madison Center for Climatic Research, led by co-author and UW-Madison professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences Zhengyu Liu, shows that this pattern may have been strengthened between 8,000 and 11,500 years ago. The models also show high summer temperatures at that time, which would have increased evaporation and further reduced the moisture that supports dune-stabilizing plants.

This pattern of climate change had been described for areas distant from the monsoon, like Central Asia around the Caspian and Aral Seas and in northern Mongolia. However, Mason says, “It hasn’t really been recognized that this effect could be going on in northern China, which is where our study sites are. What it means is there’s much more of a contrast in climate change across a fairly short distance.”

The new findings relied on a technique called optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), which dates the last time the sand was exposed to sunlight. Radiocarbon dating methods are of limited use since sand typically contains little or no organic material. The OSL method identifies time periods when the sand was actively moving around, indicating little precipitation, and times when dunes were stable.

Mason’s previous work in the area suggests that moisture and precipitation are the most significant factors in determining the activity of the Chinese dunes. The new results mean that common assumptions about the effects of future climate changes — including the increased monsoon rainfall predicted by many climatologists — may be incorrect.

“If monsoon rainfall increases in southern China over the next century, the logical assumption would be that these dunes would become more stable as more precipitation also reaches the dune fields and increases vegetation cover,” Mason says. “That may not be true… The dunes can become active and the climate there can become drier even when the monsoon is getting stronger.”

Even if future rainfall in northern China isn’t reduced by changing air circulation patterns as it was in the past, rising temperatures will undoubtedly increase evaporation, he says, exacerbating the water shortages that already plague the area. An accompanying increase in sand dune activity would reduce available grazing land and worsen air quality.

“If it’s drier you have less vegetation and the dunes are active. There will almost certainly be more dust produced, which is a major environmental hazard. Some of the dust from northern China actually reaches Korea, Japan and even the western U.S.,” says Mason.

The paper is co-authored by colleagues in China, the Illinois State Geological Survey, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the China National S&T Basic Work Program, and Nanjing University.

CONTACT: Joseph Mason, mason@geography.wisc.edu, 608-262-6316

Jill Sakai | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.wisc.edu
http://www.news.wisc.edu/newsphotos/otindagDunefield09.html

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA's Terra Satellite glares at the 37-mile wide eye of Super Typhoon Trami
25.09.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht NASA balloon mission captures electric blue clouds
24.09.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Hygiene at your fingertips with the new CleanHand Network

The Fraunhofer FEP has been involved in developing processes and equipment for cleaning, sterilization, and surface modification for decades. The CleanHand Network for development of systems and technologies to clean surfaces, materials, and objects was established in May 2018 to bundle the expertise of many partnering organizations. As a partner in the CleanHand Network, Fraunhofer FEP will present the Network and current research topics of the Institute in the field of hygiene and cleaning at the parts2clean trade fair, October 23-25, 2018 in Stuttgart, at the booth of the Fraunhofer Cleaning Technology Alliance (Hall 5, Booth C31).

Test reports and studies on the cleanliness of European motorway rest areas, hotel beds, and outdoor pools increasingly appear in the press, especially during...

Im Focus: Scientists present new observations to understand the phase transition in quantum chromodynamics

The building blocks of matter in our universe were formed in the first 10 microseconds of its existence, according to the currently accepted scientific picture. After the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago, matter consisted mainly of quarks and gluons, two types of elementary particles whose interactions are governed by quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of strong interaction. In the early universe, these particles moved (nearly) freely in a quark-gluon plasma.

This is a joint press release of University Muenster and Heidelberg as well as the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt.

Then, in a phase transition, they combined and formed hadrons, among them the building blocks of atomic nuclei, protons and neutrons. In the current issue of...

Im Focus: Patented nanostructure for solar cells: Rough optics, smooth surface

Thin-film solar cells made of crystalline silicon are inexpensive and achieve efficiencies of a good 14 percent. However, they could do even better if their shiny surfaces reflected less light. A team led by Prof. Christiane Becker from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) has now patented a sophisticated new solution to this problem.

"It is not enough simply to bring more light into the cell," says Christiane Becker. Such surface structures can even ultimately reduce the efficiency by...

Im Focus: New soft coral species discovered in Panama

A study in the journal Bulletin of Marine Science describes a new, blood-red species of octocoral found in Panama. The species in the genus Thesea was discovered in the threatened low-light reef environment on Hannibal Bank, 60 kilometers off mainland Pacific Panama, by researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (STRI) and the Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnología (CIMAR) at the University of Costa Rica.

Scientists established the new species, Thesea dalioi, by comparing its physical traits, such as branch thickness and the bright red colony color, with the...

Im Focus: New devices based on rust could reduce excess heat in computers

Physicists explore long-distance information transmission in antiferromagnetic iron oxide

Scientists have succeeded in observing the first long-distance transfer of information in a magnetic group of materials known as antiferromagnets.

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

"Boston calling": TU Berlin and the Weizenbaum Institute organize a conference in USA

21.09.2018 | Event News

One of the world’s most prominent strategic forums for global health held in Berlin in October 2018

03.09.2018 | Event News

4th Intelligent Materials - European Symposium on Intelligent Materials

27.08.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Establishing metastasis

25.09.2018 | Health and Medicine

Artificial intelligence to improve drug combination design & personalized medicine

25.09.2018 | Health and Medicine

Small modulator for big data

25.09.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>