Dust Event Detection

Wind-induced dust emission from the southwestern United States is important on a local and regional scale because of its effects on air quality, human health and safety, and on ecosystem function, through the depletion or addition of soil nutrients and influence on snow melt timing and the water cycle.

The Sources, compositions, and effects of atmospheric dust from American Drylands project maintains a catalog of dust events in the southwestern United States since 2009. This work highlights the need for a more comprehensive understanding and accounting of dust emissions in the southwest through a dedicated network of in-situ instrumentation such as particulate sensors and automated camera systems. This catalog also compliments ongoing work focusing on the effects of dust deposited on mountain snow cover, with an emphasis on dust compositions that affect snow albedo, as well as other dust event studies.

Each marker on the map below catalogs known dust storm sources and events we have recorded using various techniques such as ground-based web cameras and satellite imagery.

Click on Markers to see known Dust Events at that location

Due to the relatively low temporal resolution of current satellite imaging systems, they cannot detect and monitor dust storms of the size typically generated in the southwest on an operational basis, and they also have limited use for producing models for emission-rate prediction because of the low temporal resolution. Many more events occur which have not been recorded due to poor visibility factors including timing of satellite overpasses, cloud cover, and night time storms.

Satellite Comparisons Table
Table of satellite comparisons

The imaging system on the GOES satellite is the only one that has adequate temporal resolution to detect and monitor active dust storms on an operational basis. However, GOES can only detect very large dust storms because its spatial and spectral resolutions are very low. Ideally a satellite imaging system with four to eight spectral bands (with adjustable gain settings) and approximately 30 to 100-meter spatial and 15 to 20 minutes temporal resolutions is needed to effectively monitor dust storms in the southwest. Such a system would also be useful in other arid regions and to help monitor other short-lived events (e.g., floods and forest fires).