Climatologists from NASA are studying dust kicked up into the atmosphere from the Sahara Desert to determine its role in tropical storms.
Warm dust-laden air from the Sahara Desert travels over the Atlantic Ocean, where it interacts with cooler moist air. It is possible that the mixing of Saharan dust with cool air prevents clouds from forming into a tropical storm.
The dusty air can also act as a front, which contributes to storms in Africa. If the dust makes it to the U.S. it can contribute to raindrop formation by acting as a platform for condensation.
NASA researchers study the effects of the dust with their Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. They measure dust particles with cloud light detection and ranging instruments. They collect weather conditions in the clouds with dropsondes.
Image: A well-defined plume of dust swept across the entire Atlantic Ocean on June 24, 2009. (Credit: NASA)