Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Dust transport and deposition observed from the Terra-Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) spacecraft over the Atlantic Ocean

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Abstract

[1] Meteorological observations, in situ data, and satellite images of dust episodes were used already in the 1970s to estimate that 100 Tg of dust are transported from Africa over the Atlantic Ocean every year between June and August and are deposited in the Atlantic Ocean and the Americas. Desert dust is a main source of nutrients to oceanic biota and the Amazon forest, but it deteriorates air quality, as shown for Florida. Dust affects the Earth radiation budget, thus participating in climate change and feedback mechanisms. There is an urgent need for new tools for quantitative evaluation of the dust distribution, transport, and deposition. The Terra spacecraft, launched at the dawn of the last millennium, provides the first systematic well-calibrated multispectral measurements from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument for daily global analysis of aerosol. MODIS data are used here to distinguish dust from smoke and maritime aerosols and to evaluate the African dust column concentration, transport, and deposition. We found that 240 ± 80 Tg of dust are transported annually from Africa to the Atlantic Ocean, 140 ± 40 Tg are deposited in the Atlantic Ocean, 50 Tg fertilize the Amazon Basin (four times as previous estimates, thus explaining a paradox regarding the source of nutrition to the Amazon forest), 50 Tg reach the Caribbean, and 20 Tg return to Africa and Europe. The results are compared favorably with dust transport models for maximum particle diameter between 6 and 12 μm. This study is a first example of quantitative use of MODIS aerosol for a geophysical research.

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