This grant supports acquisition of a portable in situ wind erosion experimental mesocosm (PI-SWERL) to facilitate research and undergraduate research training at the University of South Dakota with a focus on study of the role of eolian induced erosion of mineral dusts on landscape evolution and the impacts of aerosol loading on the atmosphere and related climate effects. The portable nature of the wind tunnel mescosm (PI-SWERL) will allow for large numbers of spatially detailed measurements of wind effects on mineral dust emissions to the atmosphere with implications for improved models to inform a better understanding of eolian processes in arid environments, the impacts of desertification on human health, and improved agricultural soil conservation efforts.


Project Report

Funds were requested for the acquisition of a new Portable In Situ Wind Erosion Laboratory (PI-SWERL) for research and undergraduate education in the Earth Sciences at the University of South Dakota. The PI-SWERL is similar to a wind tunnel, and can measure the potential of different surfaces to emit dust. A better understanding of dust sources and the volumes of dust generated from natural and human-modified landscapes is needed. Dust storms are a human hazard because they reduce visibility, and inhaled dust can pose health problems. Research into the understanding of dust sources can aid land management in municipal areas and parks to help minimize dust emission hazards. In addition, dust in the atmosphere can influence the climate, and our scientific understanding of this influence is limited. The PI-SWERL is small, can be operated by one person, and can take measurements in areas not otherwise accessible to large field wind tunnels, and is therefore a cost effective means of collecting scientific data. The purpose of acquiring a PI-SWERL was two-fold: 1) Research: to engage in collaborative research with other scientists emphasizing dust emissions in the Great Plains and other locations, and 2) Undergraduate training and education: to involve undergraduate students in research projects, and to teach students in upper level classes about factors involved in dust formation. Undergraduate student training in research will make students more competitive for graduate school or employment upon graduation. The primary investigator of this grant has applied for additional funding to support field-based projects using the PI-SWERL. All projects include collaboration with scientists from other universities and participation by undergraduate Earth Science majors at the University of South Dakota. The primary investigator of this grant has 8 years of experience using and analyzing data from the PI-SWERL. Upon receipt of the grant in 2011, an order for the PI-SWERL was placed with DustQuant, LLC (Las Vegas) and delivered in February 2012. Initial testing of the equipment found it to be in proper working order. In July 2012, the first research project using the new PI-SWERL was started on the Missouri National Recreational River (MNRR) managed by the National Park Service. In 2011, floods along the Missouri River deposited vast areas of new sand bars. These sand bars became sources of sand and dust on windy days. We used the PI-SWERL to quantify the amount of sand and dust generated from the sand bars. This data can be used to assess air quality impacts along the MNRR, assess negative impacts to habitat nesting on sand bars, and determine if dust emitted from sand bars could have been an ancient source for dust that accumulated to form the nearby Loess Hills. This project includes the training of an undergraduate student in research, and is still in progress. Additional projects using the PI-SWERL are in the planning stages.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Earth Sciences (EAR)
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Program Officer
Russell C. Kelz
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University of South Dakota Main Campus
United States
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