Icy Cirrus Clouds Born From Desert Dust

Each year, several billion tonnes of mineral dust are lofted into the atmosphere from the world’s arid regions, making dust one of the most abundant types of aerosol particles in the atmosphere. Now, scientists are learning that tiny bits of dust from the hottest and driest parts of the Earth are a surprisingly large driver in forming the delicate, wispy ice clouds known as cirrus in the cold, high altitudes of the atmosphere. 

Karl Froyd, a former CIRES scientist during the Atmospheric Tomography Mission, is strapped in his workstation aboard the NASA DC-8 during one of the flights. Measurements made by the PALMS instrument allowed the research team to document that desert dust is a major contributor to the formation of icy cirrus clouds. Credit: Dan Murphy, NOAA