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A Great AridnessClimate Change and the Future of the American Southwest$
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William deBuys

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199778928

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199778928.001.0001

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High Blue: The Great Downshift of Dryness

High Blue: The Great Downshift of Dryness

1 High Blue: The Great Downshift of Dryness
A Great Aridness

William deBuys

Oxford University Press

Mapmakers typically depict the aridlands of the world in colors like buff and buckskin, in contrast to the greens of wetter regions. Their choice is true to reality, for dry places usually produce scant vegetation, and the bare ground, baked by unobstructed sun, tends to wear a washed-out shade of dun, or one of its cousins. In the North American Southwest, you might add a touch of rust to reflect the widespread iron-rich geology. In many areas, oxides of iron produce the pinkish flesh tones that make it easy to think the landscape is alive. If you also brush in some piney greens and spruce black for upland woods and forests, and dab smaller areas white to represent high-country snowcaps, you have a fair start toward capturing the palette of the region. But you would still be missing the most definitive color of the Southwest, which is found not beneath the feet, but overhead. You can look up, straight up, almost any day of the year, and there it is: an intense, infinite blue, miles deep and beyond reach. It is not merely bluish, not the watery blue of Scandinavian eyes, not the black-mixed blue of dark seas or bachelor buttons, not the hazy blue of glacier ice or distant mountains, but an Ur-blue, an über-blue, a defining quintessence. It is to other blues as brandy is to wine: a distillation, pure and heady. It can be a little deflating to reflect that the ethereal blue of southwestern skies results from mundane forces, that it is the product of solar radiation and atmospheric gases interacting in an environment shaped by climate. If the air held more water vapor, the sky would whiten overhead, as it does at the horizons, where the light that reaches our eyes has more atmosphere and diffusing vapor to travel through.

Keywords:   Atacam Desert, Chihuahuan Desert, Dust Bowl, El Niño, Great Basin, Kalahari Desert, La Niña, Mohave Desert, Rio Grande, Sahara Desert

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