Massive dust storm caused by climate, not conflict

by Mary Caperton Morton
Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A massive dust storm, seen here on Sept. 8, 2015, in NASA MODIS imagery, swept across the Middle East in late summer 2015. Credit: NASA Worldview.

In August and September 2015, a massive dust storm swept across the Middle East, engulfing seven nations in sand thick enough to ground flights, trigger respiratory distress for many, and obscure the region from satellites. At the time, the unprecedented size of the storm was blamed on the ongoing conflict in Syria, with unusual amounts of dust being raised from abandoned agricultural lands and increased military traffic. But a new study cites a combination of climatic factors and weather as the more likely culprits.

Anthony Parolari, of Marquette University in Wisconsin, and colleagues reported in Environmental Research Letters that the storm was preceded by an unusually hot and dry summer, which, combined with unusual east-to-west wind patterns, would have dislodged more dust than usual.

“If the cause of the storm was human conflict, then when the conflict ends, the causes go away,” said co-author Elie Bou-Zeid of Princeton University in a statement. “But if the cause was not conflict and is more climate, and this is due to climatic conditions that are going to become more frequent in the future, then this is something that will reoccur.”

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