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Gentle topography increases vertical transport of coarse dust by orders of magnitude

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The presence of coarse mineral dust in the atmosphere has been substantiated in several recent measurement campaigns, which include observations of particles up to and above 100 μm in diameter. Yet, atmospheric dust models either do not include particles larger than 20 μm or severely underestimate their concentrations. One possibility for the underestimated concentrations is that models do not represent enhancements of particle transport due to subgrid-scale topography. Here, large-eddy simulations are used in combination with Lagrangian particle tracking to assess the impact of gentle two-dimensional topography with 50 and 100 m elevation on the vertical transport of coarse dust in neutrally stratified conditions. The presence of topography significantly increases the likelihood that 5 and 20 μm particles reach several hundred meters in altitude. Further, topography increases this likelihood by orders of magnitude for larger 60 μm particles. Three mechanisms are observed to contribute to the increased vertical transport: a strong upward mean flow region on the uphill side of the topography, ejection of particles downwind of the topography crest, and enhanced vertical dispersion in the wake of the crest. The compounding effects of these mechanisms provide a pathway for coarse dust emitted from the surface to reach elevations where they can be further transported into the free atmosphere by large-scale motions such as convective plumes. While these findings are motivated by mineral dust observations, they are generally applicable to other heavy aerosols such as pollen.

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