Saharan Dust Drifts Over the Atlantic

Saharan Dust Drifts Over the Atlantic

A large plume of dust from the Sahara drifts off the African coast and out into the Atlantic in this true-color image captured by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument aboard the NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP satellite on April 2, 2017.

Although we can see dust in the atmosphere thanks to images like this one, just how much dust enters the atmosphere each year is unclear. Projections range from 200 to 5,000 teragrams a year (one teragram, Tg, equals one trillion grams). Scientists estimate that, on average, about 20 Tg of dust are suspended in the atmosphere at any given time, but the exact amount can vary depending on seasonal variability.

VIIRS provides coverage of the entire globe twice a day with 750 meter resolution across its entire scan. In doing so, it offers better coverage than its instrument predecessors, which has led to improved atmospheric and environmental satellite data products, pertaining to vegetation health, phytoplankton abundance, clouds, smoke plumes, and as shown here, atmospheric dust.

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