Climatology: Does dust suppress hurricanes?

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Climatology: Does dust suppress hurricanes?
Climatology: Does dust suppress hurricanes?
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Does dust suppress hurricanes?

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The formation of hurricanes in the Atlantic is possibly hampered by dust storms from the Sahara: In years with a lot of dust, only a few cyclones occur, while intensive storm phases like those of 2005 are also characterized by a pronounced lack of dust in the oceanic atmosphere.

Climatologists led by Amato Evan from the University of Wisconsin-Madison determined the relevant connections when they compared satellite images from the period between 1981 and 2006 with the corresponding Atlantic hurricane activity. These images show, for example, how huge dust storms, which can sometimes transport several million tons of material, form over the Sahara within just five days and then drift west across the Atlantic. They tend to form in summer and winter - but not in the transitional periods - when hot desert winds meet cooler and drier air from the Sahel. The turbulence lifts the dust, only to be caught by trade winds and transported far away.

However, the exact connections are still unclear to the researchers. Perhaps the mostly very dry, dusty layers of air absorb significantly more moisture than clear currents and thereby dampen the development of a cyclone, which can form in an atmosphere saturated with water vapor. It is possible that increased dust storm activity and reduced hurricane numbers are only indirectly related because they are carried by the same large-scale atmospheric changes around the Atlantic. Evans' colleague Jonathan Foley said future research should clarify this.

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