2015 Middle East Dust Storm Was Triggered By Changing Climate, Study Reveals

Posted: Jan 15 2017, 11:14am CST | by , Updated: Jan 16 2017, 12:38am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

2015 Middle East Dust Storm was Triggered by Changing Climate, Study Reveals
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The giant dust storm was initially attributed to civil war in Syria

In September 2015, a massive dust storm swept across the Middle East, causing several deaths and sending thousands of people to hospitals with breathing difficulties. 

Initially, the storm was attributed to ongoing civil war in Syria and increased military activity. However, a new research from Princeton University debunks the prevailing theory and suggests that thick haze of dust and sand was caused by a combination of climate factors and unusual weather conditions, not by human conflict. 

For the study, researchers first analyzed vegetation cover data months prior to the storm. The idea was to see whether if the war in Syria had really contributed to the reduction of vegetation in the region.

“These observations told us that the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI)—which is kind of a measure of how 'green' the surface is, how much vegetation there is—was not abnormally low. So, there was nothing to suggest that during this particular period there was less greenery or agriculture in the region than normal.” Elie Bou-Zeid, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton, who was in Lebanon when storm hit the region, said.

When researchers used remote sensing data as well as climate model simulations, they found the evidence of unusual climatic and meteorological conditions before, during and after the storm, which likely conspired to create the storm.

“The simulations showed that what was very unique about this storm is that first, it was preceded by a very hot period, and so the land that was not covered with vegetation would be drier and it would be easier to entrain sand grains from it.” Bou-Zeid said.

Middle East witnessed unusually hot and dry summer in 2015 with temperatures and humidity exceeding the past years’ averages by a large margin. Furthermore, the region was plagued by severe drought from 2007 to 2010, which was the worst drought in 900 years. The extremely arid conditions increased the amount of dust available and led to the conditions that made the storm possible.

“Our analysis showed that aridity and synoptic meteorology played a prominent role in dust emission and transport for this episode. The storm occurred during a period of extreme aridity and was associated with a cyclone and 'Shamal' winds, typical for dust storm generation in this region,” study reads.

“If such dust storms result from aridity and synoptic meteorology that could be significantly affected by climate change, then prolonged impacts in the Middle East may be unavoidable.”

 

 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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