Dust storm

Dust emitted in the atmosphere may play a role in reducing climate warming, according to ACSF faculty fellow Natalie Mahowald's research highlighted in the Spring 2012 ENG Magazine’s cover story published by the College of Engineering 

Do Dust and Aerosols Play Cooling Roles in Climate Change?

July 17, 2012

Dust storm

Dust emitted in the atmosphere may play a role in reducing climate warming, according to ACSF faculty fellow Natalie Mahowald's research highlighted in the Spring 2012 ENG Magazine’s cover story published by the College of Engineering.

Natalie Mahowald

“Dust acts like a greenhouse gas but it reflects solar energy too.  We think that in the net, it actually cools,” Mahowald says.

But the news isn’t all positive.  Mahowald and her colleagues believe that droughts stem in part from dust.  As dust particles reflect back heat and cool the air, the air sinks and prevents precipitation.  Complicating matters further, when desert dust, comprised of key nutrients and minerals, falls in the ocean, phytoplankton consume the iron-filled dust deposits. This results in larger blooms of phytoplankton growing, and pulling more carbon dioxide out of the air — a phenomenon called the biological pump.

Expect to hear more news about Mahowald soon.  She will be a lead author on the next edition of the International Panel on Climate Change’s report assessing the physical and scientific aspects of the climate system and climate change.