Articles | Volume 17, issue 17
Research article
01 Sep 2017
Research article |  | 01 Sep 2017

Harmattan, Saharan heat low, and West African monsoon circulation: modulations on the Saharan dust outflow towards the North Atlantic

Kerstin Schepanski, Bernd Heinold, and Ina Tegen

Abstract. The outflow of dust from the northern African continent towards the North Atlantic is stimulated by the atmospheric circulation over North Africa, which modulates the spatio-temporal distribution of dust source activation and consequently the entrainment of mineral dust into the boundary layer, as well as the transport of dust out of the source regions. The atmospheric circulation over the North African dust source regions, predominantly the Sahara and the Sahel, is characterized by three major circulation regimes: (1) the harmattan (trade winds), (2) the Saharan heat low (SHL), and (3) the West African monsoon circulation. The strength of the individual regimes controls the Saharan dust outflow by affecting the spatio-temporal distribution of dust emission, transport pathways, and deposition fluxes.

This study aims at investigating the atmospheric circulation pattern over North Africa with regard to its role favouring dust emission and dust export towards the tropical North Atlantic. The focus of the study is on summer 2013 (June to August), during which the SALTRACE (Saharan Aerosol Long-range TRansport and Aerosol-Cloud interaction Experiment) field campaign also took place. It involves satellite observations by the Spinning Enhanced Visible and InfraRed Imager (SEVIRI) flying on board the geostationary Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) satellite, which are analysed and used to infer a data set of active dust sources. The spatio-temporal distribution of dust source activation frequencies (DSAFs) allows for linking the diurnal cycle of dust source activations to dominant meteorological controls on dust emission. In summer, Saharan dust source activations clearly differ from dust source activations over the Sahel regarding the time of day when dust emission begins. The Sahara is dominated by morning dust source activations predominantly driven by the breakdown of the nocturnal low-level jet. In contrast, dust source activations in the Sahel are predominantly activated during the second half of the day, when downdrafts associated with deep moist convection are the major atmospheric driver. Complementary to the satellite-based analysis on dust source activations and implications from their diurnal cycle, simulations on atmosphere and dust life cycle were performed using the mesoscale atmosphere–dust model system COSMO-MUSCAT (COSMO: COnsortium for Small-scale MOdelling; MUSCAT: MUltiScale Chemistry Aerosol Transport Model). Fields from this simulation were analysed regarding the variability of the harmattan, the Saharan heat low, and the monsoon circulation as well as their impact on the variability of the Saharan dust outflow towards the North Atlantic. This study illustrates the complexity of the interaction among the three major circulation regimes and their modulation of the North African dust outflow. Enhanced westward dust fluxes frequently appear following a phase characterized by a deep SHL. Ultimately, findings from this study contribute to the quantification of the interannual variability of the atmospheric dust burden.

Short summary
This study illustrates the complexity of the interaction among the three major circulation regimes stimulating the North African dust outflow: harmattan, Saharan heat low, and monsoon circulation. We analyse fields from model simulations and satellite observations in concert in order to link atmospheric circulation and dust source activation as well as to characterize their impact on the variability of the dust outflow towards the Atlantic.
Final-revised paper