Dust storms present numerous hazards to human society and are particularly significant to people living in the Dust Belt which stretches from the Sahara across the Middle East to northeast Asia. This paper presents a review of dust storm variability and trends in frequency on decadal timescales from three Dust Belt settlements with long-term (>50 years) meteorological records: Nouakchott, Mauritania; Zabol, Iran, and Minqin, China. The inhabitants of each of these settlements have experienced a decline in dust storms in recent decades, since the late 1980s at Nouakchott, since 2004 at Zabol, and since the late 1970s at Minqin. The roles of climatic variables and human activities are assessed in each case, as drivers of periods of high dust storm frequency and subsequent declines in dust emissions. Both climatic and human variables have been important but overall the balance of research conclusions indicates natural processes (precipitation totals, wind strength) have had greater impact than human action, in the latter case both in the form of mismanagement (abandoned farmland, water management schemes) and attempts to reduce wind erosion (afforestation projects). Understanding the drivers of change in dust storm dynamics at the local scale is increasingly important for efforts to mitigate dust storm hazards as climate change projections suggest that the global dryland area is likely to expand in the twenty-first century, along with an associated increase in the risk of drought and dust emissions.
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