News Section
Stories from Climate Central's Science Journalists and Content Partners

Dust in the Wind Never Looked So Stunning

Watching sea salt, dust, and soot might not sound like the most exciting way to spend your Friday afternoon. But put aside your prejudice for a second (or 177 seconds to be exact) and check out this video.

Winds are constantly moving these and other particles, called aerosols, through the earth’s atmosphere. The animation above from TED shows the meandering streams of air and particulate matter that move across our planet each day. Blue swirls show sea salt whipped off the ocean, red is dust, and white is pollution from volcanic eruptions and burning coal. The rod dots that cover the map represent forest fires burning from both natural and human causes.

The animation translates the particles from the mundane to the kaleidoscopic as they move throughout the atmosphere. More than just a pretty visual, though, these shifting particles are all major drivers of our climate. They form the nucleus around which raindrops and snowflakes can form, affect hurricane formation, and reflect incoming radiation from the sun into space, helping cool the planet.

Research from scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory indicates that aerosols from volcanic eruptions contributed to the recent “hiatus” in global warming. Understanding how the cooling effect of aerosol emissions from natural and manmade sources could interact with the warming effect of greenhouse gas emissions is one of the key questions scientists are trying to answer in determining what our future climate will look like.

In keeping with last Friday's diversion, this animation is also silent. While it may bring to mind Kansas' "Dust in the Wind," we suggest pairing it with the almost as aptly-name Riders on the Storm.

The animation comes courtesy of climate models, which NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt discussed in his recent TED Talk. In it, Schmidt talks about the role computer models play in helping scientists tease out the answer to that and other climate questions. If you’ve got another 730 seconds to spare, it’s well worth a watch.

You May Also Like
‘Catastrophe’ Claim Adds Fuel to Methane Debate
100 Percent of California Now in Highest Stages of Drought
The Rise of El Niño in 1 Swell Image
Warming Shifting Hurricane Impacts Away from Tropics


By Dave (Basking Ridge, NJ 07920)
on May 16th, 2014

Great video. But also like you say “More than just a pretty visual….” and in a number of profound ways. Such also as this particular conclusion that was reported eight years ago:

From the abstract: “About 40 million tons of dust are transported annually from the Sahara to the Amazon basin. Saharan dust has been proposed to be the main mineral source that fertilizes the Amazon basin, generating a dependence of the health and productivity of the rain forest on dust supply from the Sahara.”

Reply to this comment

By Ann Skydell Harmon (Palm Bay, FL 32907)
on May 16th, 2014

Awesome and absolutely mesmerizing, especially the Antarctica portion.

Reply to this comment

By ray delcolle
on May 17th, 2014

“Carbon dioxide has increased about 40 percent in the atmosphere since the 1750s, due to pollution from dirty energy like coal, oil, and gas. The result is a warming climate.”

Reply to this comment

By Hank Roberts (Rather Not Say)
on May 20th, 2014

Is there a data set for sulfur, and in particular DMSO from marine sources?

I just read—to my surprise—that sulfur from marine organisms, not sulfate from fossil fuel, is the largest source of sulfur to the atmosphere—here:

“… algal metabolite … is the most abundant
form of sulfur released into the atmosphere.”

Reply to this comment

By Randolph Garrison (Virginia Beach)
on May 24th, 2014

It is demonstrations like this one that make me consider piezoelectrics causing lightning.

Reply to this comment

Name (required):
Email (required):
Enter the word "climate" in the box below:

[+] View our comment guidelines.

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until reviewed by Climate Central staff. Thank you for your patience.