Navajo Nation: Hotter, Drier Climate Puts Sand Dunes on the Move

Tribal Profiles
U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit

The Native Navajo people of the southwestern United States are facing an increasingly dry climate. In a region that receives an average of only six inches of precipitation per year, average warming of just two degrees Fahrenheit can significantly increase evaporation and loss of water through plants, reducing available moisture by a third. Alone, this drying process has the potential to fundamentally alter local ecosystems. When combined with a decrease in winter snowfall that feeds year-round streams, the impacts of drying can multiply. Roughly one-third of the Navajo Reservation is covered with sand dunes. In the already windy and increasingly arid environment, vegetation that can grow on dunes withers, and dunes can become mobile—obliterating everything in their path. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are now conducting research on the dunes. This work can provide critical data to the Native peoples of the region as they consider how they might respond. Some Navajo Nation communities are also working with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Northern Arizona University Environmental Education Outreach Program (EEOP) to provide education and to test methods to that may help stabilize sand dunes.

U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, Adaptation, Disaster Risk Reduction, Water, Drought