Dust moving toward Greenland
Dust in natural color seen from space traveling toward Greenland. NASA

Changes in Polar Jet Circulation Bring More Dust from Sahara Desert to the Arctic

Poleward transport of warm, moist, and dust-laden air masses from the Sahara Desert results in ice melting in southeast Greenland, NYU Abu Dhabi scientists have found

Press Release

Researchers at NYU Abu Dhabi, along with other global scientists, have identified a new mechanism by which warm dust travels from the Sahara Desert to the Arctic Circle, which has been proven to affect rising temperatures and ice melt in Greenland.

Their findings highlight the role that the polar jet and associated atmospheric circulation plays in the transport of mineral dust from the Sahara Desert to the Arctic across the eastern side of the North Atlantic Ocean.

A meandering polar jet was discovered as responsible for both the emission and transport of dust from Northwest Africa to the Arctic. The emission has been linked to an intense Saharan cyclone that formed in early April 2011, which was caused by the intrusion of an upper-level trough emanating from the polar jet.

The study has found that atmospheric circulation of this nature enables the transport of dust, as well as warm and moist air masses from subtropics and mid-latitudes to the Arctic, where approximately half of the warming is now being attributed to increased moisture and heat fluxes transported to the region.

The warm and moist air masses accompanying the Saharan dust caused a rise in surface temperature of 10 degrees Celsius for more than three consecutive days upon reaching southeastern Greenland.

Subsequent temperature observations detected increased melting within the ice across this same area.

“The polar jet stream has been identified as the main driver for such events leading to the transport of large amounts of dust to high-latitudes," said Diana Francis, atmospheric scientist at NYU Abu Dhabi and lead research scientist in this study. "If the polar jet is set to slow more frequently due to the changes in the Arctic climate system and to the Arctic Amplification, such events are expected to become more frequent."

Meandering polar jet stream visible in red colors, upper-level trough visible in blue. European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts
Meandering polar jet stream visible in red colors, upper-level trough visible in blue. European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts

The newly discovered poleward route is considered the most substantial in terms of dust load import into the Arctic, due to the minimal geographical distance between the origin point and the destination.

"The impact of dust deposition on ice in Greenland, such as darkening ice and formation of algae on ice or cryoconite, as well as the link between Saharan dust transport and the Arctic heat dome must be investigated further in collaboration with scientists in UK and Germany," Francis emphasized.


About NYU Abu Dhabi

NYU Abu Dhabi is the first comprehensive liberal arts and science campus in the Middle East to be operated abroad by a major American research university. NYU Abu Dhabi has integrated a highly-selective liberal arts, engineering and science curriculum with a world center for advanced research and scholarship enabling its students to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world and advance cooperation and progress on humanity’s shared challenges. NYU Abu Dhabi’s high-achieving students have come from 120 nations and speak over 120 languages. Together, NYU's campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai form the backbone of a unique global university, giving faculty and students opportunities to experience varied learning environments and immersion in other cultures at one or more of the numerous study-abroad sites NYU maintains on six continents.