From: Science Daily, adapted from materials from Cornell University
Published January 10, 2011 07:50 AM

Dust levels in Earth's atmosphere contribute to climate change

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. It's the first study to trace the fluctuation of a natural (not human-caused) aerosol around the globe over the course of a century.

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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.

Ocean chemistry is also intricately involved. Dust is a major source of iron, which is vital for plankton and other organisms that draw carbon out of the atmosphere.

To measure fluctuations in desert dust over the century, the researchers gathered existing data from ice cores, lake sediment and coral, each of which contain information about past concentrations of desert dust in the region. They then linked each sample with its likely source region and calculated the rate of dust deposition over time. Applying components of a computer modeling system known as the Community Climate System Model, the researchers reconstructed the influence of desert dust on temperature, precipitation, ocean iron deposition and terrestrial carbon uptake over time.

Image shows how desert dust influences climate through a host of interactions.  Credit:  Cornell Uuniversity

Article continues: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110110055748.htm

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