Intense Dust Storms in Africa

In late March 2018, strong winds caused by a train of low-pressure areas appeared to fuel the flow of dust across Africa. Dust storms are quite common during the Spring in the Sahara, because the weather used to change with the seasons. However, according to several observers in the region last week’s storms were particularly strong and persistent.

Schools and airports have been shut down in many sub-Saharan countries like Sudan and Egypt, and a thick orange mist has filled the air as wind-driven sandstorms, stirred up the Sahara desert.

Sentinel-3 OLCI images acquired the 29th of March 2018

Copernicus Sentinels satellite captured several images over the area witnessing the intense phenomenon. Sentinel-2 in particular shows the dust storm crossing the Nile agricultural area almost like a biblical event.

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Dust Storm approaching in South Africa seen from the ground. The front can reach a speed of several tens km/h.

Dust storms can of course cause breathing problems, create poor visibility, and lead to other health and safety concerns when these aerosols are concentrated near the ground. Dust storms have indeed been shown to increase the spread of disease across the globe. Virus spores in the ground are blown into the atmosphere by the storms with the small particles and interact with urban air pollution. Nevertheless when spread over long distances, the airborne dust (sometimes also called silt) can provide a natural fertiliser for plants and forests.

For instance, the dust carried from the Sahara desert has been demonstrated by scientists to provide an important amount of nutrients for the Amazon rainforest. Dust also can fertilise the oceans for phytoplankton blooms.

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