African dust outbreaks over the western Mediterranean Basin: 11-year characterization of atmospheric circulation patterns and dust source areas
Abstract. The occurrence of African dust outbreaks over different areas of the western Mediterranean Basin were identified on an 11-year period (2001–2011). The main atmospheric circulation patterns causing the transport of African air masses were characterized by means of an objective classification methodology of atmospheric variable fields. Next, the potential source areas of mineral dust, associated to each circulation pattern were identified by trajectory statistical methods. Finally, an impact index was calculated to estimate the incidence of the African dust outbreaks produced during each circulation pattern, in the areas of study.
Four circulation types were obtained (I–IV) and three main potential source areas of African dust were identified (Western Sahara and Morocco; Algeria; northeastern Algeria and Tunisia). The circulation pattern I (24% of the total number of episodic days) produced the transport of dust mainly in summer from Western Sahara, southern Morocco and Tunisia. The circulation pattern IV (33%) brings dust mainly from areas of northern and southern Algeria in summer and autumn, respectively. The circulation pattern II (31%) favored the transport of dust predominantly from northern Algeria, both in spring and summer. Finally, the circulation type III was the less frequently observed (12%). It occurred mainly in spring and with less intensity in winter, carrying dust from Western Sahara and southern Morocco.
Our findings point out that the most intense episodes over the western Mediterranean Basin were produced in the summer period by the circulation type I (over the western side of the Iberian Peninsula) and the circulation type IV (over the central and eastern sides of the Iberian Peninsula and the Balearic Islands).