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Navajo Land Use Planning Project (NLUPP)

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The particular geology and climatic characteristics of the Navajo Nation make it especially vulnerable to short-term and long term trends in precipitation and temperature. Our interdisciplinary studies document landscape change and surface processes related to climate variability in this region, and it’s linkages to ecosystem function. This work provides a foundation for evaluating flood hazards and risks associated with dust and sand storms. Through our work, information on geologic hazards, characterization of aquifers, soils, and environmentally sensitive areas are provided to local community-based chapter governments that are developing land-use plans. In addition, the NLUPP provides geologic information for Navajo communities that is urgently needed for planning urban development, infrastructure, water resources and domestic septic and landfill systems.

NLUPP and the Southwest Geographic Science Team have formed a partnership to address and document climatic conditions and vegetation change related to landscape mobility on the southwestern Navajo Nation. In recent years the sand dunes within this region have undergone significant growth and acceleration of movement. The subsequent changes have had a significant impact, including local property damage, increases in invasive species, and a significant increase in regional dust emissions and subsequent effects on air quality and snowpack in the southern Rocky Mountains. Monitoring and modeling dune characteristics will help quantify drought, climate change impacts, and the characteristics of climate and related dune ecosystem thresholds.

Current NLUPP studies include:

  • Bedrock and surficial geologic mapping for land use planning
  • Landscape monitoring: Little Colorado River channel and floodplain evaluation
  • Sand dune mobility and its relation to drought and climate change
  • Sediment transport and availability
  • History of eolian deposits: Paleoclimate (Climate-related events can be determined, in part, through understanding the relationships between and ages of alluvial fans, debris flows, soils and dunes.)
  • Outreach and education
The work being done on the Navajo Nation is funded through two USGS programs: National Cooperative Geologic Mapping (NCGMP) and Earth Surface Dynamics, which funds USGS Climate Change research.

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