03 Mar 2021

03 Mar 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

Observation and modeling of a historic African dust intrusion into the Caribbean Basin and the southern U.S. in June 2020

Hongbin Yu1, Qian Tan2,3, Lillian Zhou1, Yaping Zhou1,4, Huisheng Bian1,4, Mian Chin1, Claire L. Ryder5, Robert C. Levy1, Yaswant Pradhan6, Yingxi Shi1,4, Qianqian Song4,7, Zhibo Zhang4,7, Peter R. Colarco1, Dongchul Kim1,8, Lorraine A. Remer4, Tianle Yuan1,4, Olga Mayol-Bracero9, and Brent N. Holben1 Hongbin Yu et al.
  • 1Earth Sciences Division, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, USA
  • 2Bay Area Environment Research Institute, Petaluma, CA, USA
  • 3Earth Science Division, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, USA
  • 4JCET, University of Maryland at Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD, USA
  • 5Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6BB, UK
  • 6Met Office, Exeter, EX1 3PB, UK
  • 7Physics Department, University of Maryland at Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD, USA
  • 8GESTAR, Universities Space Research Association, Columbia, MD, USA
  • 9University of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, USA

Abstract. This study characterizes a massive African dust intrusion into the Caribbean Basin and southern U.S. in June 2020, which is nicknamed the Godzilla dust plume, using a comprehensive set of satellite and ground-based observations (including MODIS, CALIOP, SEVIRI, AERONET, and EPA Air Quality network) and the NASA GEOS global aerosol transport model. The MODIS data record registered this massive dust intrusion event as the most intense episode over the past two decades. During this event, the aerosol optical depth observed by AERONET and MODIS peaked at 3.5 off the coast of West Africa and 1.8 in the Caribbean Basin. CALIOP observations show that the top of dust plume reached altitudes of 6–8 km in West Africa and descended to about 4 km altitude over the Caribbean Basin and 2 km over the U.S. Gulf coast. The dust plume degraded the air quality in Puerto Rico to the hazardous level, with maximum daily PM10 concentration of 453 μg m−3 recorded on June 23. The dust intrusion into the U.S. raised the PM2.5 concentration on June 27 to a level exceeding the EPA air quality standard in about 40 % of the stations in the southern U.S. Satellite observations reveal that dust emissions from convection-generated haboobs and other sources in West Africa were large albeit not extreme on a daily basis. However, the anomalous strength and northern shift of the North Atlantic Subtropical High (NASH) together with the Azores low formed a closed circulation pattern that allowed for accumulation of the dust near the African coast for about four days. When the NASH was weakened and wandered back to south, the dust outflow region was dominated by a strong African Easterly Jet that rapidly transported the accumulated dust from the coastal region toward the Caribbean Basin, resulting in the record-breaking African dust intrusion. In comparison to satellite observations, the GEOS model well reproduced the MODIS observed tracks of the meandering dust plume as it was carried by the wind systems. However, the model substantially underestimated dust emissions from haboobs and did not lift up enough dust to the middle troposphere for ensuing long-range transport. Consequently, the model largely missed the satellite-observed elevated dust plume along the cross-ocean track and underestimated the dust intrusion into the Caribbean Basin by a factor of more than 4. Modeling improvements need to focus on developing more realistic representations of moist convection, haboobs, and the vertical transport of dust.

Hongbin Yu et al.

Status: open (until 12 May 2021)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse

Hongbin Yu et al.

Data sets

The Godzilla dust event as seen by SEVIRI Tan, Qian, Yu, Hongbin, and Pradhan, Yaswant

Godzilla dust plume: Evolution of MODIS (top) and GEOS (bottom) AOD from June 10 to 30, 2020 Yu, Hongbin, Zhou, Yaping, Bian, Huisheng, and Song, Qianqian

Hongbin Yu et al.


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Short summary
This study characterizes a historic African dust intrusion into the Caribbean Basin in June 2020 using satellites and NASA GEOS model. Dust emissions in West Africa were large albeit not extreme. However, a unique synoptic system accumulated the dust near the coast for about four days before it was ventilated. Although GEOS well reproduced satellite observed plume tracks, it substantially underestimated dust emissions and did not lift up dust high enough for ensuing long-range transport.