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Global Biogeochemical Cycles

Characterizing the annual cycle of African dust transport to the Caribbean Basin and South America and its impact on the environment and air quality

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Abstract

Decades of aerosol measurements on Barbados have yielded a detailed picture of African mineral dust transport to the Caribbean Basin that shows a strong seasonal cycle with a maximum in boreal summer and a minimum in winter. Satellite aerosol products suggest that in spring, there is a comparable transport to northeastern South America. Here we characterize the complete annual cycle of dust transport to the western Atlantic by linking the Barbados record to multiyear records of airborne particulate matter less than 10 µm diameter (PM10) measured in air quality programs at Cayenne (French Guiana) and Guadeloupe. Comparisons of PM10 at these sites with concurrent dust measurements at Barbados demonstrate that high PM10 levels are almost entirely due to dust. Cayenne PM10 peaks in spring in a cycle which is consistent with satellite aerosol optical depth and suggests that the Sahel is the dominant source. The persistent transport of dust during much of the year could impact a wide range of environmental processes over a broad region that extends from the southern United States to the Amazon Basin. Finally, the average 24 h PM10 concentrations at Cayenne and Guadeloupe frequently exceed the World Health Organization air quality guideline. Thus soil dust PM10 could be a significant, but generally unrecognized, health factor at western Atlantic sites and also in other relatively remote regions affected by long-range dust from Africa. Because dust emissions and transport are highly sensitive to climate variability, climate change in coming decades could greatly affect a wide range of biogeochemical processes and human health in this region.

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