Dust storm

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Dust storm
Sandstorm in Al Asad, Iraq.jpg
A sandstorm approaching Al Asad, Iraq, just before nightfall on April 27, 2005.
EffectMay cause coughing and spread dust.
Seen from above, a sandstorm might not look as tough as it really is. Namib Desert (2017) 25deg20'07''S 016deg03'05''E / 25.33528degS 16.05139degE / -25.33528; 16.05139 (Sandsturm) Sandsturm in der Namib (2017).jpg
Seen from above, a sandstorm might not look as tough as it really is. Namib Desert (2017) 25°20′07″S016°03′05″E / 25.33528°S 16.05139°E / -25.33528; 16.05139 (Sandsturm)

A dust storm is a meteorological phenomenon common in arid and semi-arid regions. Dust storms arise when a gust front or other strong wind blows loose sand and dirt from a dry surface. Fine particles are transported by saltation and suspension, a process that moves soil from one place and deposits it in another.

Arid severe lack of available water

A region is arid when it is characterized by a severe lack of available water, to the extent of hindering or preventing the growth and development of plant and animal life. Environments subject to arid climates tend to lack vegetation and are called xeric or desertic. Most "arid" climates straddle the Equator; these places include parts of Africa, South America, Central America, and Australia.

Outflow boundary

An outflow boundary, also known as a gust front, is a storm-scale or mesoscale boundary separating thunderstorm-cooled air (outflow) from the surrounding air; similar in effect to a cold front, with passage marked by a wind shift and usually a drop in temperature and a related pressure jump. Outflow boundaries can persist for 24 hours or more after the thunderstorms that generated them dissipate, and can travel hundreds of kilometers from their area of origin. New thunderstorms often develop along outflow boundaries, especially near the point of intersection with another boundary. Outflow boundaries can be seen either as fine lines on weather radar imagery or else as arcs of low clouds on weather satellite imagery. From the ground, outflow boundaries can be co-located with the appearance of roll clouds and shelf clouds.

Dirt unclean matter

Dirt is unclean matter, especially when in contact with a person's clothes, skin or possessions. In such case they are said to become dirty. Common types of dirt include:


Drylands around North Africa and the Arabian peninsula are the main terrestrial sources of airborne dust. It has been argued that [1] [ unreliable source? ] poor management of the Earth's drylands, such as neglecting the fallow system, are increasing dust storms size and frequency from desert margins and changing both the local and global climate, and also impacting local economies. [2]

Drylands are defined by a scarcity of water. Drylands are zones where precipitation is balanced by evaporation from surfaces and transpiration by plants (evapotranspiration). The United Nations Environment Program defines drylands as tropical and temperate areas with an aridity index of less than 0.65. The drylands can be classified into four sub-types: dry sub-humid lands, semi-arid lands, arid lands, and hyper-arid lands. Some authorities consider Hyper-arid lands as deserts although a number of the world's deserts include both hyper arid and arid climate zones. The UNCCD excludes hyper-arid zones from its definition of drylands.

North Africa Northernmost region of Africa

North Africa is a region encompassing the northern portion of the African continent. There is no singularly accepted scope for the region, and it is sometimes defined as stretching from the Atlantic shores of Morocco in the west, to Egypt's Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the east. Others have limited it to the countries of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, a region that was known by the French during colonial times as "Afrique du Nord" and is known by Arabs as the Maghreb. The most commonly accepted definition includes Algeria, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, the 6 countries that shape the top North of the African continent. Meanwhile, "North Africa", particularly when used in the term North Africa and the Middle East, often refers only to the countries of the Maghreb and Libya. Egypt, being also part of the Middle East, is often considered separately, due to being both North African and Middle Eastern at the same time.

The term sandstorm is used most often in the context of desert dust storms, especially in the Sahara Desert, or places where sand is a more prevalent soil type than dirt or rock, when, in addition to fine particles obscuring visibility, a considerable amount of larger sand particles are blown closer to the surface. The term dust storm is more likely to be used when finer particles are blown long distances, especially when the dust storm affects urban areas.

Desert Area of land where little precipitation occurs

A desert is a barren area of landscape where little precipitation occurs and, consequently, living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life. The lack of vegetation exposes the unprotected surface of the ground to the processes of denudation. About one-third of the land surface of the world is arid or semi-arid. This includes much of the polar regions where little precipitation occurs and which are sometimes called polar deserts or "cold deserts". Deserts can be classified by the amount of precipitation that falls, by the temperature that prevails, by the causes of desertification or by their geographical location.

Urban area Human settlement with high population density and infrastructure of built environment

An urban area or urban agglomeration is a human settlement with high population density and infrastructure of built environment. Urban areas are created through urbanization and are categorized by urban morphology as cities, towns, conurbations or suburbs. In urbanism, the term contrasts to rural areas such as villages and hamlets and in urban sociology or urban anthropology it contrasts with natural environment. The creation of early predecessors of urban areas during the urban revolution led to the creation of human civilization with modern urban planning, which along with other human activities such as exploitation of natural resources leads to human impact on the environment.


Animation showing the global movement of dust from an Asian dust storm. Global movement of dust from an Asian dust storm animation.gif
Animation showing the global movement of dust from an Asian dust storm.

As the force of wind passing over loosely held particles increases, particles of sand first start to vibrate, then to saltate ("leaps"). As they repeatedly strike the ground, they loosen and break off smaller particles of dust which then begin to travel in suspension. At wind speeds above that which causes the smallest to suspend, there will be a population of dust grains moving by a range of mechanisms: suspension, saltation and creep. [2]

Saltation (geology) Sediment transport process which moves particles across the bottom by bouncing off the bottom, keeping the particle in the moving fluid much of the time

In geology, saltation is a specific type of particle transport by fluids such as wind or water. It occurs when loose materials are removed from a bed and carried by the fluid, before being transported back to the surface. Examples include pebble transport by rivers, sand drift over desert surfaces, soil blowing over fields, and snow drift over smooth surfaces such as those in the Arctic or Canadian Prairies.

Downhill creep

Downhill creep, also known as soil creep or commonly just creep, is the slow downward progression of rock and soil down a low grade slope; it can also refer to slow deformation of such materials as a result of prolonged pressure and stress. Creep may appear to an observer to be continuous, but it really is the sum of numerous minute, discrete movements of slope material caused by the force of gravity. Friction, being the primary force to resist gravity, is produced when one body of material slides past another offering a mechanical resistance between the two which acts to hold objects in place. As slope on a hill increases, the gravitational force that is perpendicular to the slope decreases and results in less friction between the material that could cause the slope to slide.

A study from 2008 finds that the initial saltation of sand particles induces a static electric field by friction. Saltating sand acquires a negative charge relative to the ground which in turn loosens more sand particles which then begin saltating. This process has been found to double the number of particles predicted by previous theories. [3]

Particles become loosely held mainly due to a prolonged drought or arid conditions, and high wind speeds. Gust fronts may be produced by the outflow of rain-cooled air from an intense thunderstorm. Or, the wind gusts may be produced by a dry cold front, that is, a cold front that is moving into a dry air mass and is producing no precipitation—the type of dust storm which was common during the Dust Bowl years in the U.S. Following the passage of a dry cold front, convective instability resulting from cooler air riding over heated ground can maintain the dust storm initiated at the front.

Cold front leading edge of a cooler mass of air

A cold front is the leading edge of a cooler mass of air, replacing at ground level a warmer mass of air, which lies within a fairly sharp surface trough of low pressure. It forms in the wake of an extratropical cyclone, at the leading edge of its cold air advection pattern, which is also known as the cyclone's dry conveyor belt circulation. Temperature differences across the boundary can exceed 30 °C (54 °F) from one side to the other. When enough moisture is present, rain can occur along the boundary. If there is significant instability along the boundary, a narrow line of thunderstorms can form along the frontal zone. If instability is less, a broad shield of rain can move in behind the front, which increases the temperature difference across the boundary. Cold fronts are stronger in the fall and spring transition seasons and weakest during the summer.

Dust Bowl period of severe dust storms in North America

The Dust Bowl was a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the American and Canadian prairies during the 1930s; severe drought and a failure to apply dryland farming methods to prevent the aeolian processes caused the phenomenon. The drought came in three waves, 1934, 1936, and 1939–1940, but some regions of the high plains experienced drought conditions for as many as eight years. With insufficient understanding of the ecology of the plains, farmers had conducted extensive deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains during the previous decade; this had displaced the native, deep-rooted grasses that normally trapped soil and moisture even during periods of drought and high winds. The rapid mechanization of farm equipment, especially small gasoline tractors, and widespread use of the combine harvester contributed to farmers' decisions to convert arid grassland to cultivated cropland.

Convection movement of groups of molecules within fluids such as liquids or gases, and within rheids; takes place through advection, diffusion or both

Convection is the heat transfer due to the bulk movement of molecules within fluids such as gases and liquids, including molten rock (rheid). Convection includes sub-mechanisms of advection, and diffusion.

In desert areas, dust and sand storms are most commonly caused by either thunderstorm outflows, or by strong pressure gradients which cause an increase in wind velocity over a wide area. The vertical extent of the dust or sand that is raised is largely determined by the stability of the atmosphere above the ground as well as by the weight of the particulates. In some cases, dust and sand may be confined to a relatively shallow layer by a low-lying temperature inversion. In other instances, dust (but not sand) may be lifted as high as 20,000 feet (6,100 m) high.

Drought and wind contribute to the emergence of dust storms, as do poor farming and grazing practices by exposing the dust and sand to the wind.

One poor farming practice which contributes to dust storms is dryland farming. Particularly poor dryland farming techniques are intensive tillage or not having established crops or cover crops when storms strike at particularly vulnerable times prior to revegetation. [4] In a semi-arid climate, these practices increase susceptibility to dust storms. However, soil conservation practices may be implemented to control wind erosion.

Physical and environmental effects

Dust storm in Sahara, painted by George Francis Lyon A Sand Wind on the Desert.jpg
Dust storm in Sahara, painted by George Francis Lyon
Sydney shrouded in dust during the 2009 Australian dust storm. Sydney harbour bridge duststorm.jpg
Sydney shrouded in dust during the 2009 Australian dust storm.

A sandstorm can transport and carry large volumes of sand unexpectedly. Dust storms can carry large amounts of dust, with the leading edge being composed of a wall of thick dust as much as 1.6 km (0.99 mi) high. Dust and sand storms which come off the Sahara Desert are locally known as a simoom or simoon (sîmūm, sîmūn). The haboob (həbūb) is a sandstorm prevalent in the region of Sudan around Khartoum, with occurrences being most common in the summer.

The Sahara desert is a key source of dust storms, particularly the Bodélé Depression [5] and an area covering the confluence of Mauritania, Mali, and Algeria. [6] Sahara dust is frequently emitted into the Mediterranean atmosphere and transported by the winds sometimes as far north as central Europe and Great Britain. [7]

Saharan dust storms have increased approximately 10-fold during the half-century since the 1950s, causing topsoil loss in Niger, Chad, northern Nigeria, and Burkina Faso.[ citation needed ] In Mauritania there were just two dust storms a year in the early 1960s, but there are about 80 a year today, according to Andrew Goudie, a professor of geography at Oxford University. [8] [9] Levels of Saharan dust coming off the east coast of Africa in June 2007 were five times those observed in June 2006, and were the highest observed since at least 1999, which may have cooled Atlantic waters enough to slightly reduce hurricane activity in late 2007. [10] [11]

Dust storms have also been shown to increase the spread of disease across the globe. [12] Virus spores in the ground are blown into the atmosphere by the storms with the minute particles and interact with urban air pollution. [13]

Short-term effects of exposure to desert dust include immediate increased symptoms and worsening of the lung function in individuals with asthma, [14] increased mortality and morbidity from long-transported dust from both Saharan [15] and Asian dust storms [16] suggesting that long-transported dust storm particles adversely affects the circulatory system. Dust pneumonia is the result of large amounts of dust being inhaled.

Prolonged and unprotected exposure of the respiratory system in a dust storm can also cause silicosis, [17] which, if left untreated, will lead to asphyxiation; silicosis is an incurable condition that may also lead to lung cancer. There is also the danger of keratoconjunctivitis sicca ("dry eyes") which, in severe cases without immediate and proper treatment, can lead to blindness.[ citation needed ]

Economic impact

Dust storms cause soil loss from the dry lands, and worse, they preferentially remove organic matter and the nutrient-rich lightest particles, thereby reducing agricultural productivity. Also, the abrasive effect of the storm damages young crop plants. Dust storms also reduced visibility affecting aircraft and road transportation. In addition dust storms also create problems due to complications of breathing in dust. [18]

Dust can also have beneficial effects where it deposits: Central and South American rain forests get most of their mineral nutrients from the Sahara; iron-poor ocean regions get iron; and dust in Hawaii increases plantain growth. In northern China as well as the mid-western U.S., ancient dust storm deposits known as loess are highly fertile soils, but they are also a significant source of contemporary dust storms when soil-securing vegetation is disturbed.[ verification needed ][ better source needed ]

Extraterrestrial dust storms

Dust storms are not limited to Earth and have been known to form on other planets such as Mars. [19] These dust storms can extend over larger areas than those on Earth, sometimes encircling the planet, with wind speeds as high as 60 miles per hour (97 km/h). However, given Mars' much lower atmospheric pressure (roughly 1% that of Earth's), the intensity of Mars storms could never reach the kind of hurricane-force winds that are experienced on Earth. [20] Martian dust storms are formed when solar heating warms the Martian atmosphere and causes the air to move, lifting dust off the ground. The chance for storms is increased when there are great temperature variations like those seen at the equator during the Martian summer. [21]

Mars dust stormoptical depth tau – May to September 2018
(Mars Climate Sounder; Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter)
(1:38; animation; 30 October 2018; file description)
Dust storms on Mars
PIA16454 Regional Dust Storm Weakening, Nov. 25, 2012.jpg
November 25, 2012
November 18, 2012
Locations of the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers are noted

See also

Related Research Articles


Desertification is a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry area of land becomes a desert, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife. It is caused by a variety of factors, such as through climate change and through the overexploitation of soil through human activity. When deserts appear automatically over the natural course of a planet's life cycle, then it can be called a natural phenomenon; however, when deserts emerge due to the rampant and unchecked depletion of nutrients in soil that are essential for it to remain arable, then a virtual "soil death" can be spoken of, which traces its cause back to human overexploitation. Desertification is a significant global ecological and environmental problem with far reaching consequences on socio-economic and political conditions.

Erosion Processes which remove soil and rock from one place on the Earths crust, then transport it to another location where it is deposited

In earth science, erosion is the action of surface processes that removes soil, rock, or dissolved material from one location on the Earth's crust, and then transports it to another location. This natural process is caused by the dynamic activity of erosive agents, that is, water, ice (glaciers), snow, air (wind), plants, animals, and humans. In accordance with these agents, erosion is sometimes divided into water erosion, glacial erosion, snow erosion, wind (aeolic) erosion, zoogenic erosion, and anthropogenic erosion. The particulate breakdown of rock or soil into clastic sediment is referred to as physical or mechanical erosion; this contrasts with chemical erosion, where soil or rock material is removed from an area by its dissolving into a solvent, followed by the flow away of that solution. Eroded sediment or solutes may be transported just a few millimetres, or for thousands of kilometres.

Geography of Mauritania

Mauritania, a country in the western region of the continent of Africa, is generally flat, its 1,030,700 square kilometres forming vast, arid plains broken by occasional ridges and clifflike outcroppings. It borders the North Atlantic Ocean, between Senegal and Western Sahara, Mali and Algeria. It is considered part of both the Sahel and the Maghreb. A series of scarps face southwest, longitudinally bisecting these plains in the center of the country. The scarps also separate a series of sandstone plateaus, the highest of which is the Adrar Plateau, reaching an elevation of 500 metres. Spring-fed oases lie at the foot of some of the scarps. Isolated peaks, often rich in minerals, rise above the plateaus; the smaller peaks are called guelbs and the larger ones kedias. The concentric Guelb er Richat is a prominent feature of the north-central region. Kediet ej Jill, near the city of Zouîrât, has an elevation of 1,000 metres and is the highest peak.

Ventifact A rock that has been abraded, pitted, etched, grooved, or polished by wind-driven sand or ice crystals

A ventifact is a rock that has been abraded, pitted, etched, grooved, or polished by wind-driven sand or ice crystals. These geomorphic features are most typically found in arid environments where there is little vegetation to interfere with aeolian particle transport, where there are frequently strong winds, and where there is a steady but not overwhelming supply of sand.

Sahara desert in Africa

The Sahara is a desert located on the African continent. It is the largest hot desert in the world, and the third largest desert overall after Antarctica and the Arctic. Its area of 9,200,000 square kilometres (3,600,000 sq mi) is comparable to the area of China or the United States. The name 'Sahara' is derived from a dialectal Arabic word for "desert", ṣaḥra.

Haboob Type of intense dust storm

A haboob is a type of intense dust storm carried on an atmospheric gravity current, also known as a weather front. Haboobs occur regularly in dry land area regions throughout the world.

Aeolian processes Processes due to wind activity

Aeolian processes, also spelled eolian or æolian, pertain to wind activity in the study of geology and weather and specifically to the wind's ability to shape the surface of the Earth. Winds may erode, transport, and deposit materials and are effective agents in regions with sparse vegetation, a lack of soil moisture and a large supply of unconsolidated sediments. Although water is a much more powerful eroding force than wind, aeolian processes are important in arid environments such as deserts.

Dryland farming Techniques for non-irrigated farming when it is normally required

Dryland farming and dry farming encompass specific agricultural techniques for the non-irrigated cultivation of crops. Dryland farming is associated with drylands, areas characterized by a cool wet season that is followed by a warm dry season. They are also associated with arid conditions or areas prone to drought or having scarce water resources. Additionally, arid-zone agriculture is being developed for this purpose.

Yardang A streamlined aeolian landform

A yardang is a streamlined protuberance carved from bedrock or any consolidated or semiconsolidated material by the dual action of wind abrasion by dust and sand, and deflation which is the removal of loose material by wind turbulence. Yardangs become elongated features typically three or more times longer than wide, and when viewed from above, resemble the hull of a boat. Facing the wind is a steep, blunt face that gradually gets lower and narrower toward the lee end. Yardangs are formed by wind erosion, typically of an originally flat surface formed from areas of harder and softer material. The soft material is eroded and removed by the wind, and the harder material remains. The resulting pattern of yardangs is therefore a combination of the original rock distribution, and the fluid mechanics of the air flow and resulting pattern of erosion.

Harmattan season in the West African subcontinent which occurs between the end of November and the middle of March

The Harmattan is a season in the West African subcontinent, which occurs between the end of November and the middle of March. It is characterized by the dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind, of the same name, which blows from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea. The name is related to the word haramata in the Twi language. The temperature is cold in most places, but can also be hot in certain places, depending on local circumstances.

Desert pavement A desert surface covered with closely packed, interlocking angular or rounded rock fragments of pebble and cobble size.

A desert pavement, also called reg, serir, gibber, or saï is a desert surface covered with closely packed, interlocking angular or rounded rock fragments of pebble and cobble size. They typically top alluvial fans. Desert varnish collects on the exposed surface rocks over time.

Saharan Air Layer

The Saharan Air Layer (SAL) is an extremely hot, dry and sometimes dust-laden layer of the atmosphere that often overlies the cooler, more-humid surface air of the Atlantic Ocean. In the Sahara Desert region of North Africa, where it originates, it is the prevalent atmosphere, extending from the surface upwards several kilometers. As it drives, or is driven, out over the ocean, it is lifted above the denser marine air. This arrangement is an inversion where the temperature increases with height. The boundary between the SAL and the marine layer suppresses or "caps" any convection originating in the marine layer. Since it is dry air, the lapse rate within the SAL itself is steep, that is, the temperature falls rapidly with height.

Mineral dust

Mineral dust is atmospheric aerosols originated from the suspension of minerals constituting the soil. It is composed of various oxides and carbonates. Human activities lead to 30% of the dust load in the atmosphere. The Sahara Desert is the major source of mineral dust, which subsequently spreads across the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas into northern South America, Central America, North America, and Europe. Additionally, it plays a significant role in the nutrient inflow to the Amazon rainforest. The Gobi Desert is another source of dust in the atmosphere, which affects eastern Asia and western North America.

Bodélé Depression

The Bodélé Depression, located at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in north central Africa, is the lowest point in Chad. Its bottom lies about 155 meters above sea level. The dry endorheic basin is a major source of fertile dust essential for the Amazon rainforest.

Climate of Mars climate patterns of the terrestrial planet

The climate of the planet Mars has been a topic of scientific curiosity for centuries, in part because it is the only terrestrial planet whose surface can be directly observed in detail from the Earth with help from a telescope.

Martian soil

Martian soil is the fine regolith found on the surface of Mars. Its properties can differ significantly from those of terrestrial soil, including its toxicity due to the presence of perchlorates. The term Martian soil typically refers to the finer fraction of regolith. On Earth, the term "soil" usually includes organic content. In contrast, planetary scientists adopt a functional definition of soil to distinguish it from rocks. Rocks generally refer to 10 cm scale and larger materials with high thermal inertia, with areal fractions consistent with the Viking Infrared Thermal Mapper (IRTM) data, and immobile under current aeolian conditions. Consequently, rocks classify as grains exceeding the size of cobbles on the Wentworth scale.

Rain dust Form of precipitation containing visible dust

Rain dust or snow dust, traditionally known as muddy rain, red rain, or coloured rain, is a variety of rain which contains enough desert dust for the dust to be visible without using a microscope.


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