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Airborne Asian dust: case study of long-range transport and implications for the detection of volcanic ash


The transport of fine-grained Asian dust from its source (e.g., the Gobi Desert, Mongolia) to North America is a common springtime phenomenon. Because of its chemical composition (silicon, iron, aluminum, and calcium) and its particle size distribution (mean aerodynamic diameter 2-4 mum), Asian dust produces a negative signal in the split-window T-4 - T-5 algorithm, as does airborne volcanic ash. The split-window algorithm is commonly used by operational volcanic ash advisory centers. Thus, it is important to find ways to differentiate between airborne Asian dust and airborne volcanic ash. Use of Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer aerosol and sulfur dioxide indices, in conjunction with the split-window method, can mitigate the possibility of a false airborne volcanic ash alarm. Asian dust also is important for other reasons. Thus, meteorological agencies should monitor it because 1) it can be transported thousands of kilometers from its source region and thus is of global interest (e.g., effects on radiative forcing) and 2) fine-grain particles pose a potentially serious public health hazard.

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