Annual phenomenon that takes tons of dust from North Africa to the Americas broke a record for size and distance in 2020
Every year, hundreds of millions of tons of dust are blown out of the deserts of Africa over the Atlantic Ocean. This dust from the Sahara desert helps to form beaches in the Caribbean, fertilizes soil in the Amazon and affects air quality in North and South America. But as 2020 is destined to be an atypical year, the dust cloud is so gigantic which earned researchers the nickname “Godzilla”.
Data from the European Space Agency (ESA) Copernicus Sentinel and Aeolus satellites show the extent of this cloud on its journey across the Atlantic. This dust storm, also known as the Saharan Air Layer, generally forms between late spring and early autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, peaking in late June to mid-August.
The 2020 feather is considered unusual due to its size and distance traveled. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (NOAA), the dust cloud was 70% more polluted than the average and the largest in the last 20 years.
This animation above shows the spread of dust, moving westward across the Atlantic Ocean between June 1 and 26. Video: Copernicus Sentinel / ESA
In addition, dust clouds covered approximately 8,000 km, and were seen coming close to the Caribbean and the southern United States. In previous years, plumes dispersed in the atmosphere and sank in the Atlantic before reaching the Americas. Data collected indicate that most of the dust was 3 to 6 km above the ground.
Despite its intimidating size, researchers note that the Saharan Air Layer plays an important role in our ecosystem. Dust is an important source of essential nutrients for microscopic marine plants that float on or near the surface of the ocean. These phytoplanktons in turn provide food on which other marine lives depend.
The cloud also replenishes soil nutrients in tropical forests, including the Amazon – nutrients that would otherwise be depleted by frequent rains in that region. Studies also note that layers of dry and dusty air suppress the development of hurricanes and storms in the Atlantic.
Via: ESA / AMS
Satellites atmosphere ESA north america meteorology Africa