Articles | Volume 11, issue 7
Research article
05 Apr 2011
Research article |  | 05 Apr 2011

Saharan and Asian dust: similarities and differences determined by CALIPSO, AERONET, and a coupled climate-aerosol microphysical model

L. Su and O. B. Toon

Abstract. This study compares the properties of atmospheric dust from the Saharan deserts and the Asian deserts using data from CALIPSO and AERONET during 2006 and 2007 along with simulations using a coupled climate-microphysical sectional model. Saharan deserts are largely south of 30° N, while Asian ones are primarily north of 30° N, hence they experience different meteorological regimes. Saharan dust lifting occurs all year long, primarily due to subtropical weather systems. However, Asian dust is lifted mostly in spring when mid-latitude frontal systems lead to high winds. Rainfall is more abundant over Asia during the dust lifting events, leading to greater local dust removal than over the Sahara. However, most dust removal is due to sedimentation. Despite the different meteorological regimes, the same dust lifting schemes work in models for Asian and Saharan dust. The magnitudes of dust lifted in Africa and Asia differ significantly over the year. In our model the yearly horizontal dust flux just downwind of the African dust source is about 1088 Tg (10° S–40° N, 10° W) and from the Asian dust source it is about 355 Tg (25° N–55° N, 105° E) in 2007, which is comparable to previous studies. We find the difference in dust flux is mainly due to the larger area over which dust is lifted in Africa than Asia. However, Africa also has stronger winds in some seasons. Once lifted, the Saharan dust layers generally move toward the west and descend in altitude from about 7 km to the surface over several days in the cases studied. Asian dust often has multiple layers (two layers in the cases studied) during transport largely to the east. One layer stays well above boundary layer during transport and shows little descent, while the other, lower, layer descends with time. This observation contrasts with studies suggesting the descent of Saharan dust is due to sedimentation of the particles, and suggests instead it is dominated by meteorology. We find the size distributions of Asian and African dust are similar when the dust is lifted, but the mode size can differ and secondary size modes can develop probably due to differences in vertical wind velocities during transport. The single scattering albedo of African and Asian dust does differ, due primarily to the imaginary parts of the refractive indexes being different, which in turn is likely due to different dust composition. This study is a step towards a global understanding of dust and its properties.

Final-revised paper