Earth is Twice as Dusty

According to a new study the amount of dust in the planet’s atmosphere has doubled over the last century, and unsurprisingly is affecting climate and ecology around the world.

Led by Natale Mahowald, an associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell University, the study set out to use available data combined with computer models to estimate the amount of desert dust in the atmosphere throughout the 20th century.

The study was notable for the variety of fields which were involved in the research, with people from marine geochemistry through to computational modelling involved. “It was a fun study to do because it was so interdisciplinary. We’re pushing people to look at climate impacts in a more integrative fashion,” said Mahowald.

They measured the fluctuations in the desert dust over the century by gathering existing data from ice cores, lake sediment and coral, each of which carries a comprehensive and accurate measurement of the past concentrations of desert dust within itself. With this data the researchers were able to reconstruct the influence of desert dust on temperature, precipitation, ocean iron deposition, and terrestrial carbon uptake over time.

One of their findings was that regional changes in temperature and precipitation as a result of the increased levels of dust in the atmosphere caused a global reduction in terrestrial carbon update of 6 parts per million over the 20th century, while at the same time increasing carbon uptake from the atmosphere by 4 parts per million in the oceans.

“Now we finally have some information on how the desert dust is fluctuating. This has a really big impact for the understanding of climate sensitivity,” Mahowald said, adding that the study highlighted the important role that natural aerosols have towards the changing environment conditions.

The study also makes import of the need to gather more data. “Some of what we’re doing with this study is highlighting the best available data. We really need to look at this more carefully. And we really need more paleodata records.”

Source: Cornell University

Image Source: Ianz

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