I noticed that in some science fiction movies set in the future on Earth, like Wall-E and Interstellar, dust storms are very prominent.

Are there any scientific hypotheses suggesting that dust storms may become more frequent in the future?

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    $\begingroup$ See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_storm $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2014 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ @IRO-bot I read the wiki page, but didn't get my answer $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2014 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ Can you please edit your question to specify what exactly you are asking? My understanding is that you are asking why do dust storms occur on Earth. If, on the other side, your question is about why dust storms are prominent in some science fiction movies, your question may be more suitable for scifi.stackexchange.com. $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2014 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ I want to ask is there any significance that in future sandstorms are going to be a common thing on earth for some reason? $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2014 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ Good question, I have been wondering about this myself (I live close to an arid zone, where this could become a major problem). $\endgroup$
    – user889
    Dec 9, 2014 at 21:55

1 Answer 1


Most dust storms occur down-wind from areas with a lack of moisture, little vegetation, and high soil content. Vegetative roots help to keep the soil intact when there is a lack of moisture. So any shift in the future that leads to a net decrease in vegetation, net decrease in precipitation, or an increase in exposed soil content will increase dust storm occurrence. Thus, the most plausible reasons for increased dust storms in the future that have related scientific research are:

  1. land-surface changes due to human influence: forests/vegetation being replaced by land management practices for agriculture or mining that do not sustain roots in the soil or expose more soil

  2. decreases in precipitation (e.g. due to climate change) that potentially lead to desertification of the region.

  3. diversion of rivers for human use, thereby removing water from any ecosystems that were previously downstream

  4. extreme cataclysmic events (e.g. comet impact or nuclear war) that causes removal of most vegetation

So, in my opinion, it is a very real possibility that if humans continue to cause a net decrease in vegetation... there will be increases in dust storms. However, there are good land management practices that can curtail dust entrainment into the atmosphere, such as those adopted after the historic 1930s "Dust Bowl" in America.

Finally, from IRO-bot's comment link to Wikipedia dust storms:

It has been argued that recently, poor management of the Earth's drylands, such as neglecting the fallow system, are increasing dust storms size and frequency from desert margins and changing both the local and global climate, and also impacting local economies.

  • $\begingroup$ So the way humans are "using" the earth, there's going to be a day when sandstorms would be a common thing on earth? $\endgroup$ Dec 10, 2014 at 4:13
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    $\begingroup$ IMO deforestation and poor agricultural practices are the most realistic threat for any net increase in dust storms $\endgroup$
    – f.thorpe
    Dec 10, 2014 at 4:37
  • $\begingroup$ Excellent answer to an important question - having worked at times in environmental monitoring, I can already see what you are saying. I have also seen some improvements to land management. $\endgroup$
    – user889
    Dec 10, 2014 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ There was a haboob in Idaho this year! Very uncommon but stresses the importance of high winds for dust storm creation. weather.com/storms/severe/news/… $\endgroup$
    – f.thorpe
    Dec 10, 2014 at 5:23

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