Namib Desert non-stormwater study reveals unexpected origins – sciencedaily
In a study in one of the world’s oldest and most biologically diverse deserts, scientists at Indiana University and Purdue University in Indianapolis explore the origins of water other than precipitation and identify multiple origins. The study, supported by the National Science Foundation, is the first to report that the ocean is not the only source of fog and dew vital to many plants and animals living in the Namib Desert.
Understanding water sources is essential for developing ecological models of arid environments and is essential for understanding how plants and animals maintain and function in current or future climates.
Fog and – to a lesser extent – dew are crucial sources of moisture in this desert environment. “Knowing exactly where the fog and dew are coming from will help us predict the availability of non-rainwater in the future, both in Namib and elsewhere,” said Lixin Wang, ecohydrologist and assistant professor of environmental science. Earth at the School of Science. at IUPUI, who led the new study. “With this knowledge, we may be able to determine ways to harvest new water sources for potential use in water scarcity situations.”
Surprisingly, non-ocean-derived fog accounted for more than half of the total fog events in the Namib during the one-year period of the IUPUI study. Fog derived from groundwater was the most important locally generated fog, serving as the source of more than a quarter of desert fog. Soil water, which comes from precipitation and is found below the surface but located higher than groundwater, was also found by researchers to be an unexpected source of moisture.
Arid lands, which in addition to deserts include parched but non-desert areas of the Great Plains and southwestern United States, cover about 40 percent of the earth’s surface and are home to about 2.5 billion people. With global warming, more and more areas in the United States and around the world are becoming drier and more desert-like.
“Dryland ecosystems have some of the lowest annual precipitation amounts on Earth,” said Tom Torgersen, program manager in the Earth Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation. “To survive, these ecosystems recycle water in the form of fog and dew. In the driest places on the planet, even seemingly minor components of the water cycle, such as fog and dew, become major and are essential to keeping the environment alive and functioning. “
Like other dryland ecosystems around the world, the Namib is likely to experience changes in its hydrological cycle in response to global climate change. Considering the abundance and importance of fog and dew in this desert, it provides an ideal location to study non-rainy waters.
The Namib, which borders the Atlantic Ocean for 1,243 miles with temperatures ranging from under 32 ° F (0 ° C) to 140 ° F (60 ° C), is almost completely devoid of surface water. Many parts of the Namib receive virtually no rain. Some years are without rain; other years there may only be an inch or two of rain, although some areas can receive as much as four inches. But the Namib is home to a wide variety of specially adapted organisms, such as a fog beetle. It is believed that most plants and animals in Namib derive moisture from fog or dew during periods without rain in order to survive.
Fog is made up of tiny droplets of water suspended in the air, and dew is made up of tiny droplets that form on the surface of plants, soil, and other ground objects.
Wang’s research focuses on the intersection of hydrology, ecology and isotope geochemistry. He used the analysis of stable isotopes in water – the same element with different numbers of neutrons in nuclei such as hydrogen and oxygen – to trace the origins of non-rainwater. In his future research, he plans to explore the mechanisms by which groundwater and soil water turn into fog and dew. The long-term goal is to expand this ecohydrological research beyond the Namib on a global scale.
“Origins and mechanisms of non-rainwater formation” is published online in Scientists progress, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The authors of the study, along with Wang, are Kudzai Farai Kaseke and Mary K. Seely. Kaseke is an IUPUI doctoral student in Wang’s group who accompanied Wang in the field research for the study and is the first author of this publication. Seely is a desert ecologist and the former director of the Gobabeb Research and Training Center in Namibia who has studied the Namib for over half a century.