Europe hit by rise in dust from the Sahara

On 21 February 2016, a very intense dust outbreak caused severely reduced visibility conditions and remarkable dust deposition in Spain. People wanting to go to their work in Eastern Europe recently found rust-colored coatings on their cars. They can blame the Sahara Desert, which again belched up immense dust clouds that have floated as far north as Sweden. The dust originated from salt lakes of high plateau region situated between the Tell Atlas and Saharan Atlas Range.
The above image from NASA’s OMPS blog shows dense concentrations of airborne aerosols swirling over northern Africa, with sandy tongues extending into Italy, France and even the UK. It is relatively rare for Saharan dust to reach Britain. It usually happens only once or twice a year but this time the dust was thick enough to trigger health alerts in London, as it was expected to form a cap that traps toxic chemicals from farming operations at low levels. It was a situation reminiscent of the smog in the Victorian era.

The fear is that climate change will increase both unpredictable weather and the amount of dust that reaches northern parts of Europe.

Scientists have known about the atmospheric wanderings of the Sahara dust for three or four decades. Depending on the strength of winds, the dust can travel for thousands of miles, winding up as far west as Brazil and the United States. Last summer, a Saharan dust storm raised pollution and health fears in Houston. Dust is continuously making its way to the Amazon, where it helps fertilize plants with phosphor.

Data shows that wind and weather pick up on average 182 million tons of dust each year and carry it past the western edge of the Sahara. The dust then travels 1,600 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, though some drops to the surface or is flushed from the sky by rain. Near the eastern coast of South America, 132 million tons remain in the air and 27.7 million tons fall to the surface over the Amazon basin. About 43 million tons of dust travel farther to settle out over the Caribbean Sea. See here.

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