NASA Study Quantifies Vast Amount of Dust Reaching North America

0

A new NASA study calculates that nearly 64 million tons of dust, pollution, and other tiny particles enter the atmosphere above North America from other continents each year, nearly as much as the 69 million tons of aerosols produced domestically through natural processes and human activities.

The vast majority of the particles entering the atmosphere, scientists say, consist of natural dust and not pollutants. In a first-of-its-kind study, NASA researchers used satellite data and wind speed estimates to calculate that about 88 percent of the microscopic particles, or 56 million tons, consists of dust carried in wind currents, particularly during the spring when an increase in cyclones and mid-latitude westerlies propel powerful atmospheric currents across the Pacific Ocean.

According to the study, published in the journal Nature, about 60 to 70 percent comes from Asia, and the remaining 30 to 40 percent comes from Africa and the Middle East. But only about 5 percent of the dust drops within the lowest 1.2 miles of the atmosphere, where it can be inhaled by humans. NASA scientists say the study provides critical insights into how aerosol particles across the planet affect air quality and the climate.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

About Author

Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

Join the Conversation