Is dust keeping storms at bay?
It may be too early to say this hurricane season will fall short of prognosticators' expectations. But if it does, we may have African dust to thank for it. Weather observers have been noting the huge volumes of dust that have been blowing off the northwest coast of Africa this summer, into the eastern tropical Atlantic. That's normally the spawning ground for many of the Atlantic basin's big hurricanes.
Some scientists believe that high volumes of aerosols - dust - in the atmosphere change the dynamics of hurricane formation. It could simply mark the infusion of dry air from the continent, which would interfere with hurricane formation. Or, it might act by reflecting sunlight and disrupting convection - rising currents of warm, moist air over the ocean needed for hurricane formation.
Scientists have tracked African dust clear to the United States. It is believed to play a role in providing micro-nutrients such as iron to the Caribbean Sea. And, it is suspected of transporting certain pathogens from the Old World to the New, some of which are thought by some to be affecting corals.