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Dust particles can carry a hefty cost

July 11, 2013

Research & Collections

by Meg Lowman

Not everything that counts can be counted.
—Albert Einstein

Our daily lives are surrounded by billions of unwelcome aliens that constantly engulf us, and yet we know next to nothing about them. They are technically the product of aeolian (wind-driven) processes, otherwise known as “dust.”

Dust is everywhere – sprinkled onto our food, inhaled into our lungs, caked on car bodies and vegetation, and sometimes entirely obliterating the horizon when drought or fires create enormous clouds of particles. The cost of dust is enormous – everything from car washes, to asthma medication, to expensive construction that attempts to seal buildings, to irrigation systems minimizing loss of topsoil.

During the 1930s, the Great Plains experienced one of America’s most severe environmental catastrophes called the Dust Bowl era. In this case, accelerated agricultural cultivation, combined with a dry spell, led to significant increases in wind erosion rates, and an…

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