Monitoring atmospheric composition & climate
Dust outbreak over Senegal and Cape Verde islands

36_Dust_Global_crop.gifEvery year massive storms sweep up sand from the Sahara desert forming enormous plumes of sand that are transported westward over the Atlantic ocean. These plumes of dust can severely affect visibility in western Africa and even affect air quality in the Caribbean, but are also an important source of minerals for the Amazon rain forest.

On 28 February 2015 a large plume stretching west from Senegal and also covering the Cape Verde islands could clearly be seen from space, as shown in the image from NASA below. It was also having a large impact on the ground as can be seen from images in the news. The MACC global monitoring and forecasting system combines the information from the satellite observations with its global aerosol model to monitor the 3-dimensional distribution of these dust plumes over time. This provides an important data set to scientists, who study the impact of dust on health, visibility, the weather and the tropical forests of the Amazon.

africa_vir_2015059.jpgThe MACC dust forecasts are part of a wider initiative by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which is called the Sand and Dust Storm Warning Advisory and Assessment System (SDS-WAS). SDS-WAS was established in 2007 in response to the intention of 40 WMO member countries to improve capabilities for more reliable sand and dust storm forecasts. The SDS-WAS web site provides forecasts of dust from an ensemble of forecast models from around the world and the MACC system is one of the key members of this ensemble. 

For the particular event on 28 February, the MACC forecast showed good skill as illustrated by the animation of aerosol optical depth. While the satellite images provide a beautiful view as well as a snapshot of the extent of these dust plumes, the MACC monitoring system can follow these plumes day and night and provide essential quantitative information to scientists and other users world-wide.

Daily forecasts of desert dust and other aerosols are routinely available from the MACC web site.