"Crops, Dust, and Water in the Great Plains, 1900-1940"

Geoff Cunfer, assistant professor of environmental history and studies, presented a paper entitled "Crops, Dust, and Water in the Great Plains, 1900-1940" at the annual meeting of the American Society for Environmental History. The meeting was held in Durham, North Carolina, the last week of March. Joseph Amato was also in attendance at the meeting.

What natural and human factors contributed to the dust storms of the 1930s? Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), this study digitizes four New Deal maps of the dust storm regions and overlays them on maps displaying county data about soil, land use, and climate. Included are data for approximately 280 southern and central Great Plains counties in the years leading up to and including the Dust Bowl. Data selection was guided by the Wind Erosion Equation (WEQ), a soil science formula which incorporates five environmental factors: soil erodibility, climate, vegetative cover, soil-ridge-roughness, and length of field. This view offers suggestive, not conclusive, correlations between dust storm regions and possible causes. Results show a prominent role for climate in causing the Dust Bowl. This contradicts a common theory that the misuse of land by over-plowing played the greatest role in causing the Dust Bowl. The study suggests that dust storms may be normal forms of ecological disturbance on the southern plains whenever the region experiences extended periods of low precipitation and high temperatures.

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Last updated: March 21, 2006