African Dust over the Northern Tropical Atlantic: 1955–2008
Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology
African dust outbreaks are the result of complex interactions between the land, atmosphere, and oceans, and only recently has a large body of work begun to emerge that aims to understand the controls on-and impacts of-African dust. At the same time, long-term records of dust outbreaks are either inferred from visibility data from weather stations or confined to a few in situ observational sites. Satellites provide the best opportunity for studying the large-scale characteristics of dust storms,
... ics of dust storms, but reliable records of dust are generally on the scale of a decade or less. Here the authors develop a simple model for using modern and historical data from meteorological satellites, in conjunction with a proxy record for atmospheric dust, to extend satellite-retrieved dust optical depth over the northern tropical Atlantic Ocean from 1955 to 2008. The resultant 54-yr record of dust has a spatial resolution of 18 and a monthly temporal resolution. From analysis of the historical dust data, monthly tropical northern Atlantic dust cover is bimodal, has a strong annual cycle, peaked in the early 1980s, and shows minimums in dustiness during the beginning and end of the record. These dust optical depth estimates are used to calculate radiative forcing and heating rates from the surface through the top of the atmosphere over the last half century. Radiative transfer simulations show a large net negative dust forcing from the surface through the top of the atmosphere, also with a distinct annual cycle, and mean tropical Atlantic monthly values of the surface forcing range from 23 to 29 W m 22 . Since the surface forcing is roughly a factor of 3 larger in magnitude than the top-of-the-atmosphere forcing, there is also a positive heating rate of the midtroposphere by dust.