Sahara dust takes a trip north

The United Kingdom, Ireland, and Austria are among the countries to have been visited by dust from the Sahara desert in late March and early April. The dust travelled high in the atmosphere before falling or being washed down by rain in Europe.

This animation from the UK Met Office using satellite images shows the dust as a bright pink plume coming up from Africa and spreading out in the atmosphere over Europe, where it mixes with cloud.

Many people, including the UK Prime Minister David Cameron, discovered the cars covered in a coating of the dust.

The dust contributed to poor air quality in some areas of Britain, leading to warnings for people with respiratory problems to take extra care.

Germany and Austria also experienced increased levels of dust.

The dust affects how clouds develop –  the dust-polluted clouds shown here contain very small ice particles, which appear in yellow in this image from Meteosat (convection product).

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Dust storms of different kinds are often visible on satellite images. For example, the images below show a dust storm over the Sahara on 24 April, 2013 as seen both by Metop as it passed over, and by Meteosat. The instruments used on Meteosat to detect dust allow images to be created both in daylight and at night, tracking the evolution of storms.

Apart from landing on cars and houses, the dust can also cover areas of snow, making them absorb more sunlight and melt quicker. A covering of Sahara dust in 1991 is believed to have caused melting of snow and ice in the Alps, revealing the preserved body of a man who had died there thousands of years before.

Click here for more about the March/April 2014 dust storm, and here for near real-time Meteosat dust imagery.

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About the Author

Ruth McAvinia

Ruth McAvinia

Learning Zone Writer