On April 15 and 19, 1998, two intense dust storms were generated over the Gobi desert by springtime low-pressure systems descending from the northwest. The windblown dust was detected and its evolution followed by its yellow color on SeaWiFS satellite images, routine surface-based monitoring, and through serendipitous observations. The April 15 dust cloud was recirculating, and it was removed by a precipitating weather system over east Asia. The April 19 dust cloud crossed the Pacific Ocean in 5 days, subsided to the surface along the mountain ranges between British Columbia and California, and impacted severely the optical and the concentration environments of the region. In east Asia the dust clouds increased the albedo over the cloudless ocean and land by up to 10–20%, but it reduced the near-UV cloud reflectance, causing a yellow coloration of all surfaces. The yellow colored backscattering by the dust eludes a plausible explanation using simple Mie theory with constant refractive index. Over the West Coast the dust layer has increased the spectrally uniform optical depth to about 0.4, reduced the direct solar radiation by 30–40%, doubled the diffuse radiation, and caused a whitish discoloration of the blue sky. On April 29 the average excess surface-level dust aerosol concentration over the valleys of the West Coast was about 20–50 μg/m3 with local peaks >100 μg/m3. The dust mass mean diameter was 2–3 μm, and the dust chemical fingerprints were evident throughout the West Coast and extended to Minnesota. The April 1998 dust event has impacted the surface aerosol concentration 2–4 times more than any other dust event since 1988. The dust events were observed and interpreted by an ad hoc international web-based virtual community. It would be useful to set up a community-supported web-based infrastructure to monitor the global aerosol pattern for such extreme aerosol events, to alert and to inform the interested communities, and to facilitate collaborative analysis for improved air quality and disaster management.
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