Loveland Pass, ColoradoHydrologist Jeff Derry thrusts a shovel into one of the season’s last snowfields on the jagged granite flank of the Continental Divide. He’s looking for something specific: dust.
Standing thigh deep in an icy pit at 11,000 feet above sea level, Derry scrapes his square blade across the dirty snow and dumps its contents into a 1.5-gallon plastic jug. Geologists will analyze the dust to determine its mineral content and pinpoint where it came from—in this case Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert, carried by a historic blizzard a few months earlier.
“I’m the snow guy who finds himself talking about the desert a lot,” says Derry, who directs the largest high-elevation network of dust-on-snow monitoring sites in North America, headquartered about 300 miles