Dust emission thresholds from sodic playas with varying geochemistry and environmental conditions

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 2:00 PM
Joanna M Nield1, Cheryl McKenna Neuman2 and Patrick O'Brien2, (1)University of Southampton, Southampton, SO14, United Kingdom, (2)Trent University, Geography, Peterborough, ON, Canada
Sodic playa surfaces can be major sources of dust emission but their erodibility depends on the surface salt crust characteristics. Here we determine dust emission thresholds in a wind tunnel for 22 different crusts with varying concentrations of sodium sulphate and sodium chloride. Crusts mimic those on Sua Pan, in the Makgadikgadi Basin, Botswana, which is one of the biggest dust hot spots in the Southern Hemisphere. Crusts were grown by encouraging capillary processes and subjected to several weeks of diurnal temperature variation to enable the development of hydrated and dehydrated salt crystals, along with low density, ‘fluffy’ sediment beneath the primary (and in some cases, secondary) crust. Spray on crusts and liquefied crusts were also developed for response comparison. Using laser scanning we tracked surface change and crystal growth, which we link to crust type and evaporation rates. We found that under pre-dawn and early morning Sua Pan conditions, crusts were typically non-emissive, but during mid-day temperature and humidity conditions typical of Sua Pan in August and September (dry and peak dust emission season), several crusts became friable and highly emissive above wind velocities of 7 m/s, which agrees with in-situ field observations. Thenardite capillary crusts were the most emissive, in contrast to supply limited, halite liquefied crusts which were relatively stable. Disturbances, or small crust fractures, common on polygonal surface patterns decreased the dust emission threshold values and enabled emission from more stable crusts. Our study confirms the potential of playa surfaces to emit dust without the presence of saltation, and highlights the sensitivity of emission thresholds to crust geochemistry, evaporation rates and temperature and humidity conditions.