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Study of African Dust Transport to South America Reveals Air Quality Impacts

MIAMI – A new study that analyzed concentrations of African dust transported to South America shows large seasonal peaks in winter and spring. These research findings offer new insight on the overall human health and air quality impacts of African dust, including the climate change-induced human health effects that are expected to occur from increased African dust emissions in the coming decades.

Researchers from the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and colleagues analyzed the dust concentrations in aerosol samples from two locations, French Guiana’s capital city Cayenne and the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe, to understand the amount, source regions, and seasonal patterns of airborne dust that travels across the North Atlantic Ocean.

The study showed clear seasonal cycles at both locations – with peak concentrations at Cayenne from January to May and from May to September at Guadeloupe. In addition, the results showed that dust concentrations during peak periods exceeded World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines. The airborne dust on Guadeloupe exceeded WHO air guidelines on 258 of 2799 days (9.2%) and on Cayenne they were exceeded on 246 of 2765 days (9.0%).

“The dust concentrations measured on Cayenne were far greater than any those of any major European city from pollutants,” said Joseph Prospero, UM Rosenstiel School professor emeritus and lead author of the study. “The fine-particle dust concentrations exceed the WHO air quality standard and could have broader implications on respiratory health throughout the region, including in the Caribbean and the southeastern United States.”

Persistent winds across Africa’s 3.5-million square mile Sahara Desert lifts mineral-rich dust into the atmosphere where it travels the more than 5,000-mile journey towards the U.S., South America and Caribbean. Seasonal dust plumes are linked to changes in dust source regions and changes in largescale weather patterns. The dust can penetrate deep into the human respiratory system due to its fine particle size, according to Prospero.

According to the study’s authors, quantifying the amount and sources of atmospheric dust concentrations is also important to improve future climate change predictions.

The paper, titled “Characterizing the annual cycle of African dust transport to the Caribbean Basin and South America and its impacts on the environment and air quality,” was published in the Early View online edition of the American Geophysical Union’s journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles. The co-authors include: François-Xavier Collard and Alexis Jeannot of the Observatoire Regional de l’Air in Cayenne, France; and Jack Molinié from the Université des Antilles et de la Guyane in Guadeloupe France.



Image credit: Composite image from Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satelllite
Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). Image prepared by Norman Kuring, NASA
Goddard Space Flight Center/Suomi NPP.


Image credit: Composite image from Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satelllite Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). Image prepared by Norman Kuring, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Suomi NPP.

About the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School
The University of Miami is the largest private research institution in the southeastern United States. The University’s mission is to provide quality education, attract and retain outstanding students, support the faculty and their research, and build an endowment for University initiatives. Founded in the 1940’s, the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science has grown into one of the world’s premier marine and atmospheric research institutions. Offering dynamic interdisciplinary academics, the Rosenstiel School is dedicated to helping communities to better understand the planet, participating in the establishment of environmental policies, and aiding in the improvement of society and quality of life. For more information, please visit www.rsmas.miami.edu.

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