Monday, September 28, 2009

Dust Storms : Caused By But Also A Solution To Climate Change?

A NASA satellite image of the dust storm shrouding the New South Wales coastline

According to the UK Guardian the sort of massive dust storms that blanketed country New South Wales, Queensland and red-skied Sydney and Brisbane are "are spreading lethal epidemics around the world", including "influenza, Sars and foot-and-mouth and....respiratory diseases."

Curiously though, not only are such dust storms apparently the result of drought and climate change, they can also "absorb climate change emissions."
The Sydney storm, which left millions of people choking on some of the worst air pollution in 70 years, was a consequence of the 10-year drought that has turned parts of Australia's interior into a giant dust bowl, providing perfect conditions for high winds to whip loose soil into the air and carry it thousands of miles across the continent.

It followed major dust storms this year in northern China, Iraq and Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, east Africa, Arizona and other arid areas. Most of the storms are also linked to droughts, but are believed to have been exacerbated by deforestation, overgrazing of pastures and climate change.
Sydneysiders were quite excited by the blood-red dawn, and orange skies, on September 23. But on a global comparison scale, the Sydney Red Dust Storm was a junior ranker. Only about 5000 tonnes of soil was dumped across Sydney suburbs. A dust storm coming out of China's Taklimakan desert in 2007, according to this story, lifted up some 800,000 tonnes of dust In 2006, a dust storm deposited 300,000 tonnes on Beijing.

Each year, some 2 to 3 billion tonnes of dust are whipped up by winds from Africa and carried around the world.

Drought, deforestation, land clearing, too many goats chomping every blade of grass they can find, all lead to soil becoming loose enough to lift off, but the apparent good news is that massive dust storms "could be mitigating climate change, both by reflecting sunlight in the atmosphere and fertilising the oceans with nutrients."

So climate change can help cause the dust storms that may help mitigate climate change?

Nature abides.