Dust from the Sahara Desert in Africa may help modify clouds and rainfall both in Africa and across the tropical North Atlantic, as far away as Barbados, according to a study that uses 16 years of data from NASA satellites, ground measurements and computer models.
While the previous NOAA images show aerosols blowing across the ocean, these two images from NASAs Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) instrument show dust coming off regional land sources in Africa as they follow their path across the Atlantic. The TOMS instrument aboard the Earthprobe TOMS satellite, captured these images of the dust event from June 17, 1999, as it leaves Africa.
The second image (below) from July 2, 1999, shows the progression of this event as it approaches North America.
Credit: "Laboratory for Atmospheres TOMS Project, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center"
The dust particles act as surfaces, or kernels, for water vapor to attach to in low clouds, and for ice crystals to form around in higher clouds.
The studys authors, Natalie Mahowald, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colo., and University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), and Lisa Kiehl, a graduate student at UCSB, believe the interaction between clouds and aerosols is critical for understanding climate change. Clouds play a pivotal role in reflecting and absorbing the Suns rays. Clouds also absorb and reflect radiation emitted from Earths surface. The dust and cloud interplay also helps explain rainfall patterns over the Sahara Desert and south of that area.
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