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wt_kids kids at wind tunnel Wind erosion is the removal of soil from the land by wind.  It includes the breaking away of soil particles from the soil surface, movement downwind, and the soil particles settling out when the wind slows.  One of the tools used by the WERU (Wind Erosion Research Unit) scientists is the wind tunnel, a tube-like structure or passage in which wind is generated, by a large fan and flows over the soil surface to simulate wind in natural field conditions.

 

wt_windtunnel.jpg (17267 bytes) WERU use various wind tunnels, both indoors and outdoors, to simulate wind storms so they can study and understand wind erosion on agricultural land.  By using these wind tunnels they can look at small wind storms under controlled conditions.  They can study why some soils blow more than others by moving the portable wind tunnel from field to field.  This way they can better understand which soil types affect the amount of soil that will leave a field during a wind storm.

 

Through the use of wind tunnels, scientists can study what farming practices will keep soils from blowing.  Again, by moving the wind tunnel from one part of a field to another where there are different farming practices, wt_notilldrill.jpg (13492 bytes) scientists can see which are better at reducing soil loss by wind.  Some of the practices used by farmers to control wind erosion include producing large clods which cannot be blown away, keeping a live crop or crop residue on the field to protect the soil from the wind, and planting wind barriers such as wind breaks.

 

wt_windtunnelsettingup.jpg (55704 bytes) Scientists at WERU are also using wind tunnels to learn ways to predict how much soil will be lost in future storms.  If we know how much can be lost under certain conditions, we can develop ways to reduce the amount of soil loss.  Using data from wind tunnels, WERU scientists developed a computer program called the Wind Erosion Prediction System which allows scientists and farmers to predict future soil loss from wind erosion and preventing disasters like the Dust Bowl in the 1930's.

 

Finally scientists are using wind tunnels to study the effect of blowing dust on the health of plants, animals and humans. Blowing soil can impact plants and damage them. Fine soil can travel great distances and cause health problems to those who breath the dust many miles away. wt_windtunnelsettingup2.jpg (30313 bytes)

 

Through the use of wind tunnels and other tools, WERU scientists are learning about why and where wind erosion occurs and how to control it. This research will help farmers keep the soil on the field so that they can produce the food the world needs, while at the same time protecting the environment from damaging dust storms.

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