Major and trace metal loading to mountains in the western US depends on dust sources, intensity of storms and their availability for transport during snowmelt and runoff. Previous work has been conducted on dust production, composition, and its affect on solar radiation and timing of snow melt. This study was conducted to 1) examine temporal and spatial variability in dust chemistry; 2) evaluate form and availability of major and trace elements in dust; and 3) identify potential dust sources affecting mountains in Utah and Nevada. Spring and summertime dust was collected across northern Utah over the course of three years (2013-2015). Additional dust samples were collected from eastern Nevada for comparison. All samples were analyzed for mineralogy. The spring dust samples were also leached with 1 M acetic acid, 0.8 M nitric acid, and aqua regia and analyzed for 87Sr/86Sr ratios and concentrations of 40+ trace and major elements. Nearly all dust samples were enriched in playa-associated elements (U, Mg, Li, Ca, Sr, As) and anthropogenic elements (Sb, Mn, Zn, Cu, Pb, Se, Cd) relative to average upper continental crust. Leachate results showed that nearly 60% Ca, Sr, and Cd mass is potentially available for transport during snowmelt and that the rare earth elements could be mobilized under lower pH conditions in the soil zone. A major dust event on 17 March 2014 that was sampled across the study area showed spatially variable trace element concentrations and 87Sr/86Sr ratios, indicating that dust deposited to mountain snowpack originated from multiple upwind desert dust source areas. The NOAA HYSPLIT model was used to calculate back trajectories for this dust event and showed potential dust sources ranged from the Sevier, West and Great Salt Lake deserts in Utah and the Snake River Plain in Idaho. In contrast, multivariate statistical analysis showed that over the course of the study samples had unique geochemical signatures within each sample area. These findings suggest that spatial variability is more important than temporal variability in terms of the chemistry of dust deposition. With increasing populations and land use change in the western US, the short and long term effects of aeolian dust deposition to mountain environments need to continual monitored and constrained.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Geological Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





snow, dust, geochemistry, isotope, mineralogy



Included in

Geology Commons