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Airborne Dust Causes Ripple Effect on Climate Far Away

Earth Observations
Jan 25, 2007
Image left: A massive sandstorm blowing off the northwest African desert blanketed hundreds of thousands of square miles of the eastern Atlantic Ocean with Saharan Sand. It was seen from the SeaWiFS satellite on Feb. 26, 2000, as it reached 1,000 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Click image to enlarge. Credit: NASA GSFC and ORBIMAGE

When a small pebble drops into a serene pool of water, it causes a ripple in the water in every direction, even disturbing distant still waters. NASA researchers have found a similar process at work in the atmosphere: tiny particles in the air called aerosols can cause a rippling effect on the climate thousands of miles away from their source region.

The researchers found that dust particles from the desert regions in northern Africa can produce climate changes as far away as the northern Pacific Ocean. Large quantities of dust from North Africa are injected into the atmosphere by dust storms and rising air. Airborne dust absorbs sunlight and heats the atmosphere. The heating effect ripples through the atmosphere, affecting surface and air temperatures as the dust travels.
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