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Watch how smoke, dust, and salt circulate in the Earth’s atmosphere

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2017

Using a combination of satellite data and mathematical weather models, scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center made this simulation that shows how aerosols like dust, smoke, and salt were circulated in the atmosphere during the 2017 hurricane season. It’s amazing to see how far some of these things spread.

During the 2017 hurricane season, the storms are visible because of the sea salt that is captured by the storms. Strong winds at the surface lift the sea salt into the atmosphere and the particles are incorporated into the storm. Hurricane Irma is the first big storm that spawns off the coast of Africa. As the storm spins up, the Saharan dust is absorbed in cloud droplets and washed out of the storm as rain. This process happens with most of the storms, except for Hurricane Ophelia. Forming more northward than most storms, Ophelia traveled to the east picking up dust from the Sahara and smoke from large fires in Portugal. Retaining its tropical storm state farther northward than any system in the Atlantic, Ophelia carried the smoke and dust into Ireland and the UK.

I watched this several times to pick up on different things…the hurricanes of course, but also how smoke from the forest fires in the Pacific Northwest makes it all the way to Scotland (!!!) and dust from the Sahara desert makes it to the Caribbean (also !!!). (via phil plait)

Update: All that dust from the Sahara blowing across the ocean? Some of the dust, 27 million tons per year on average, is deposited in the Amazon basin in South America, providing the ecosystem there vital phosphorus:

This trans-continental journey of dust is important because of what is in the dust, Yu said. Specifically the dust picked up from the Bodélé Depression in Chad, an ancient lake bed where rock minerals composed of dead microorganisms are loaded with phosphorus. Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plant proteins and growth, which the Amazon rain forest depends on in order to flourish.

(via tom whitwell)