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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #400657

Research Project: Science and Technologies for the Sustainable Management of Western Rangeland Systems

Location: Range Management Research

Title: The impact of vegetation removal by oil and gas development on wind erosion and dust emission in the Upper Colorado River Basin

item TYREE, GAYLE - New Mexico State University
item CHAPPELL, A - Cardiff University
item VILLARREAL, M - Us Geological Survey (USGS)
item DHITAL, SAROJ - New Mexico State University
item DUNIWAY, MICHAEL - Us Geological Survey
item EDWARDS, BRANDON - New Mexico State University
item FAIST, A - University Of Montana
item NAUMAN, T - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, USDA)
item WEBB, NICHOLAS - New Mexico State University

Submitted to: American Geophysical Union
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/9/2022
Publication Date: 12/16/2022
Citation: Tyree, G., Chappell, A., Villarreal, M.L., Dhital, S., Duniway, M.C., Edwards, B., Faist, A.M., Nauman, T.W., Webb, N.P. 2022. The impact of vegetation removal by oil and gas development on wind erosion and dust emission in the Upper Colorado River Basin. American Geophysical Union. Abstract.

Interpretive Summary: Wind erosion and dust emission from drylands of the southwest can substantially impact ecosystems and ecosystem services. Land uses in drylands can drive dust emission, but contribution to regional dust emission by different land uses is poorly understood. Here we used MODIS satellite data to quantify surface roughness and model aeolian sediment flux driven by oil and natural gas development in the Upper Colorado River Basin, with specific focus on the Uinta-Piceance Basin. We found that surface roughness was smaller and modeled aeolian sediment flux was larger from areas with oil and gas development. These results are a first step towards understanding specific mechanisms of dust emission related to land uses, which can be used to guide mitigation practices.

Technical Abstract: Wind erosion and dust emission from drylands have large consequences for ecosystem function and human life in the western United States. In drylands of the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB), human land uses have reduced vegetation (i.e., surface roughness) with potential to dramatically increase wind erosion and dust emission, which impact soils by selectively removing fine sediment containing carbon and nutrients and negatively affect air quality with implications for human health and wellbeing. Subsequent dust deposition on mountain snowpack changes surface albedo and alters regional hydrology. Extraction of oil and natural gas is a common and growing land use in the UCRB that removes vegetation and disturbs soils through installation of well pads and roads. Over the past century, this disturbance has produced over 100,000 small (~ 1 ha), discrete patches of unprotected soil in the UCRB. In this study, we used 16 years of Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) albedo (MCD43A3; daily 500 m) to assess the effect of oil and gas development on surface roughness in the Uinta-Piceance Basin, a heavily developed area of the UCRB, and modeled how the change in surface roughness could impact aeolian sediment flux. We found that oil and gas activity reduced surface roughness and increased aeolian sediment fluxes by 12% to 18,400% across much of the study region. However, in areas that were heavily invaded by annual forbs and grasses, sites disturbed by oil and gas had larger surface roughness and smaller total aeolian sediment fluxes than undisturbed sites. The net increase in modeled dust emission from the Uinta-Piceance Basin due to oil and gas activity was small (0.33 gm-1s-1 for a 12 ms-1 wind speed when threshold friction velocity was 0.20 ms-1). However, even a very small dust concentration on snowpack (<10 mgg-1 of snow) can accelerate snowmelt and runoff. Our model results suggest that oil and gas activity intensifies the potential for wind erosion and dust emission from landscapes in the UCRB. Furthermore, this work reveals an opportunity to identify mechanisms that mitigate land use-driven dust emission and subsequent ecohydrological impacts in this region.