The amount of dust in the Earth’s atmosphere has doubled over the last century, according to a new study; and the dramatic increase is influencing climate and ecology around the world.
The study, led by Natalie Mahowald, associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, used available data and computer modeling to estimate the amount of desert dust, or soil particles in the atmosphere, throughout the 20th century. Desert dust and climate influence each other directly and indirectly through a host of intertwined systems. Dust limits the amount of solar radiation that reaches the Earth, for example, a factor that could mask the warming effects of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. It also can influence clouds and precipitation, leading to droughts; which, in turn, leads to desertification and more dust.