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Sandstorms are accelerating climate change by acting like a greenhouse gas

Dust storms are important for the planet, however, they can also accelerate global warming by acting like a greenhouse gas and reducing rainfall.

Sandstorms are accelerating climate change by acting like a greenhouse gas
Cover Image Source: GettyImages | Photo by: NebraskaSC - Dale Kaminski

Dust storms go by many names, from Sirocco in the Mediterranean to La Calima in the Canary Islands, Harmattan in West Africa, and Haboob in Sudan. But no matter what you call them, these storms are becoming more frequent around the world due to climate change, land degradation and drought. According to a report by CNN, climate scientist Natalie Mahowald is working with NASA on a new instrument called EMIT which will help us better understand the impact of desert dust. EMIT is the first of its kind and will be attached to the International Space Station. It will scan 50-mile-wide strips and give scientists billions of data points on dust colors, and their light-reflecting signatures.

Image Source: gettyImages/ Photo by: Jeff Schmaltz
Image Source: Getty Images/ Photo by: Jeff Schmaltz

Dust storms are important for the planet, carrying nutrients and helping plants grow, however, they can also accelerate global warming by acting like a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and reducing rainfall. In 2020 we saw Godzilla, the biggest dust storm in 20 years, which crossed the Atlantic darkening skies from the Caribbean to Texas. It's clear that dust storms are playing an important role in climate change, and with the help of EMIT, scientists will be able to learn more about these storms and their effects on the planet.

Image Source: NASA
Image Source: NASA

 

Dust storms can have some pretty serious consequences: They can damage livestock and crops, cause respiratory illnesses and even interfere with transportation. In the Middle East and North Africa, they're estimated to cost the economy a whopping $13 billion each year. Plus, these storms are only getting worse. Francis has done research that showed how the dust from the Sahara can even reach the Arctic due to changes in the atmosphere. She noticed that, in the last two decades, the ice in the Arctic has been getting darker, which means it's reflecting less of the sun's light and melting faster.



 

NASA has been using this project called EMIT to map dust and soil composition around the world. It's actually performing even better than expected: it has already identified 50 "super-emitters" from fossil fuel, waste and agricultural sources across the world. Methane is an especially powerful greenhouse gas, and the data from EMIT is helping to pinpoint its emissions. NASA hopes the information will encourage countries to reduce their methane emissions, which can help slow down climate change.

The project was only meant to last a year, but it's now set to be extended. It's already delivered 5,000 data sets, each containing over 1.4 million spectra, and with plans to extend the project, the scientists will be able to access even more data. The more data we have, the better we'll be able to understand and track climate change.