Chasing dust with satellites

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I aim to gain a better understanding of what causes dust storms: why do we get dust storms at certain times and in certain places? Are there thresholds in the vegetation cover or timing? How important are changes in soil moisture, and what role does the wind play in different parts of the world? And, is there an overall trend in dust storms: is the world getting dustier?

Dust is an extremely important part of the Earth’s climate, it can absorb and reflect sunlight and heat, sometimes cooling and sometimes warming the Earth’s surface

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To investigate this,  I use global satellite data products; there has been a lot of progress in looking at dust in this way recently, so we can now get a better idea of dust loading, even over bright surfaces, where dust used to be difficult to detect. Dust storms are notoriously tricky to represent in climate models. They are highly variable in space and time. At the moment, many models use ‘tuning factors’ to manually set where we expect dust storms to happen. This is obviously not ideal, as we would like to understand how dust storms might change as the climate changes!

Why is this so important

Dust is a really important part of the Earth’s climate – it can absorb and reflect sunlight and heat, sometimes cooling and sometimes warming the Earth’s surface. It can also affect cloud formation and precipitation. On occasions, dust can act as a fertiliser, depositing iron and phosphorus on the land or in the ocean. Dust can also have a great effect on people’s health by causing respiratory problems or acting as a carrier for disease.

Biography

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I studied Physics at undergraduate level and spent  a year in Europe I conducted  my MSc research project looking at snow-atmosphere interactions at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. I also interned at the Met Office in London, where I analysed the effect of changing the vertical resolution representation of winds in the middle atmosphere in their climate model. Before starting on my PhD, I worked as a science teacher for a year at a secondary school in London, and I still enjoy the small bits of tutoring and outreach I can fit around my PhD research. 

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My expertise

Dust storms, satellite data, climate change, radiative transfer modelling