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Gone with the Wind: The Trans-Pacific Journey of Atmospheric Particles
Published: April 17, 2017
Posted: May 10, 2017

Observations and models reveal the fate of dust particles traveling from Asia and Africa.

The Science  
Dust particles from African and Asian deserts can travel long distances through the atmosphere, but a lack of integrated observations has made it difficult to assess the complex and size-dependent processes associated with dust emission, transport, and removal.

The Impact
A study led by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) provided new insight into the evolution of large dust particles during their trans-Pacific voyage from Asia and Africa to the Rocky Mountains. Researchers concluded that these particles might remain suspended in the atmosphere longer and travel remarkably farther than anticipated — thousands rather than hundreds of kilometers. The observed quasi-static behavior of these particles over the transport processing time could lead to more realistic treatment of their evolution in climate models to advance understanding of dust effects on climate at regional and global scales.

Summary
Many atmospheric processes, such as long-range transport of particles and their removal from the atmosphere by rain and snow, strongly depend on the particle size. Large particles are more susceptible to this removal than smaller ones. Current climate models have a simplified representation of these complex and size-dependent processes. Findings from this study showed that high-altitude winds over the Pacific Ocean carried particles from remote desert areas in Asia and Africa to the western United States. Plumes occasionally observed over ski resorts in Colorado during winter and spring hold many of these dust particles. Using ground-based data collected from the high-elevation Storm Peak Laboratory and the nearby Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Mobile Facility in Colorado, the research team found that the lifetime of the larger dust particles transported from Asia and Africa is longer than previously expected from climate model predictions. The researchers developed a framework with strongly linked observational and modeling components, and demonstrated that it has the potential to estimate uncertainties of climate model predictions associated with transport-related processes.

Contacts (BER PM)
Sally McFarlane
Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility
Sally.McFarlane@science.doe.gov

Ashley Williamson
Atmospheric System Research
Ashley.Williamson@science.doe.gov

Shaima Nasiri
Atmospheric System Research
Shaima.Nasiri@science.doe.gov

Dorothy Koch
Earth System Modeling
Dorothy.Koch@science.doe.gov

Renu Joseph
Regional and Global Climate Modeling
Renu.Joseph@science.doe.gov

(PI Contact)    
Evgueni Kassianov
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Evgueni.Kassianov@pnnl.gov

Funding
The Department of Energy’s Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research supported this research as part of the ARM Climate Research Facility, Atmospheric System Research (ASR), Earth System Modeling (ESM), and Regional and Global Climate Modeling (RGCM) programs. The ARM Facility and ASR program supported the Storm Peak Laboratory Cloud Property Validation Experiment (StormVEx) campaign.

Publications
E. Kassianov, M. Pekour, C. Flynn, L.K. Berg, J. Beranek, A. Zelenyuk, C. Zhao, L.R. Leung, P-L Ma, L. Riihimaki, J.D. Fast, J. Barnard, A.G. Hallar, I.B. McCubbin, E.W. Eloranta, A. McComiskey, P.J. Rasch, “Large Contribution of Coarse Mode to Aerosol Microphysical and Optical Properties: Evidence from Ground-Based Observations of a Trans-Pacific Dust Outbreak at a High-Elevation North American Site.” Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, accepted (2017). [DOI: 10.1175/JAS-D-16-0256.1] (Reference link)

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Atmospheric System Research
  • Research Area: DOE ARM Climate Research Facility
  • Research Area: Climate and Earth System Modeling

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER

 

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