Using data from several research satellites, scientists will spend the next three years trying to understand the climate impacts of about 770 million tons of dust carried into the atmosphere every year from the Sahara Desert.
Some Saharan dust falls back to Earth before it leaves Africa. Some of it streams out over the Atlantic Ocean or Mediterranean Sea, carried on the wind as far away as South America and the southeastern U.S. All of it has an as-yet unmeasured impact on Earth's energy budget and the climate by reflecting sunlight back into space.
"The people who build climate models make some assumptions about dust and its impact on the climate," said Dr. Sundar Christopher, a professor of atmospheric science at The University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Christopher will use a $500,000 grant from the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) mission, developed and managed by NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
CALIPSO is an Earth observing satellite that provides new insight into the role that clouds and atmospheric aerosols play in air quality, weather and climate. Christopher will use both CALIPSO and Aqua satellite data in his research.
Aqua was the first member launched of a group of satellites termed the Afternoon Constellation, or A-Train, a group of satellites that travel in line, one behind the other, along the same track, as they orbit Earth. Combining the information from several instruments gives a more complete answer to many questions about Earth's atmosphere than would be possible from any single satellite observation taken by itself.