Image: This iconic photo from 1936 shows land and equipment at a farm in Dallas, South Dakota, covered in dust after a storm triggered by human activity and climate. Credit: United States Department of Agriculture [Click image to enlarge]
The infamous “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s on the Great Plains of the United States is a good example of how human activity in tandem with climate can threaten the sustainability of our ecosystems. Intrusive farming activities—stemming from poor understanding of ecosystem processes occurring above and below the ground—led to severe dust storms, which were exacerbated by droughts. Tens of thousands of farmers and their families were displaced.
Based on visual evidence, new farming techniques seemingly led to an end of the Dust Bowl era. However, hidden within the soil is a story of what both past and present land management practices, in conjunction with the climate, have done and continue to do to the health of our soils and water bodies. My research seeks to unravel how past human activities and climate have led to the current state of soils used for agriculture, how current activities continue to affect the soils, and how future climate is likely to interact with human activities to affect future soil states.
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