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Shrinking Arctic Sea Ice May Have Fueled Last Summer’s Massive Global Dust Storm

The ADOT Dust Detection and Warning System on Interstate 10 between Eloy and ...

Credit: Arizona Department of Transportation / Associated Press

Above: The ADOT Dust Detection and Warning System on Interstate 10 between Eloy and Picacho Peak, in Tucson, Ariz. June 18, 2020.

San Diego researchers say a massive African dust storm that crossed the Atlantic last summer may be linked to melting Arctic sea ice.

The huge storm put a hazy blanket over much of the American South and West this past summer.

Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography Scientist Amato Evan was part of a team that found melting sea ice is raising temperatures and that is disrupting global weather patterns.

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One impact of the changing climate is the weather system that generating strong winds and held the subtropical high-pressure storm system in place for more than a week. Those factors created conditions that greatly enhanced the reach of the dust storm.

“What we are doing is an uncontrolled experiment on planet earth, and so we really don’t know what all of those impacts are going to be,” Evan said. “Whether they’re positive or negative. The fact that it’s an uncontrolled experiment, seems pretty risky.”

The decline in Arctic sea ice is changing global weather patterns in ways researchers do not entirely understand.

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However, Evan said the chance for even more frequent massive dust storms goes up the more the climate warms.

“As the Arctic starts to warm up faster than, for example, the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa, we’re changing the temperature gradient,” Evan said. “We’re changing the difference in temperature between Africa or the Atlantic Ocean, and the Arctic. And we’re making that difference weaker and when we start making that difference weaker it has a big impact on the circulation of the atmosphere."

Evan called the storm another example of climate-fueled extreme weather.

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Photo of Erik Anderson

Erik Anderson
Environment Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI focus on the environment and all the implications that a changing or challenging environment has for life in Southern California. That includes climate change, endangered species, habitat, urbanization, pollution and many other topics.

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