We use the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) sensor on the Nimbus 7 satellite to map the global distribution of major atmospheric dust sources with the goal of identifying common environmental characteristics. The largest and most persistent sources are located in the Northern Hemisphere, mainly in a broad “dust belt” that extends from the west coast of North Africa, over the Middle East, Central and South Asia, to China. There is remarkably little large-scale dust activity outside this region. In particular, the Southern Hemisphere is devoid of major dust activity. Dust sources, regardless of size or strength, can usually be associated with topographical lows located in arid regions with annual rainfall under 200–250 mm. Although the source regions themselves are arid or hyperarid, the action of water is evident from the presence of ephemeral streams, rivers, lakes, and playas. Most major sources have been intermittently flooded through the Quaternary as evidenced by deep alluvial deposits. Many sources are associated with areas where human impacts are well documented, e.g., the Caspian and Aral Seas, Tigris-Euphrates River Basin, southwestern North America, and the loess lands in China. Nonetheless, the largest and most active sources are located in truly remote areas where there is little or no human activity. Thus, on a global scale, dust mobilization appears to be dominated by natural sources. Dust activity is extremely sensitive to many environmental parameters. The identification of major sources will enable us to focus on critical regions and to characterize emission rates in response to environmental conditions. With such knowledge we will be better able to improve global dust models and to assess the effects of climate change on emissions in the future. It will also facilitate the interpretation of the paleoclimate record based on dust contained in ocean sediments and ice cores.