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MODELING HOW THE SAHARA DESERT DUST PLUME EFFECTS GLOBAL CLIMATE

CHANGE IN AN EXTREME CASE

Forest Stevens *
University of Tennessee Nashville

1. INTRODUCTION modified radioactive forcing to the area


unaffected by dust.
Deserts and climate change have been It is important to also note the general
linked with varying degrees of success for many rainfall trend in the Sahara desert has been
years in the atmospheric community. Varying declining in recent years, and the Sahara is
hypotheses exist as to how deserts are impacted predicted to get drier in the century (Liu et al.
by climate change, but for the research presented 2001). This could increase aerosol output in a
the focus will be on how desert dust impacts significant way in the near future. The arid region
climate change as a whole, especially through the of the Sahel that sits just below the Sahara desert
lens of global average surface temperature and is also projected to get larger and drier in the near
precipitation. future (Giannini et al. 2008). These effects come
Dust is an aerosol, typically smaller than from many different sources, interacting in ways
14m when suspended in a cloud mass caused by the dust itself not lending to proper
(Rosenfeld et al. 2000). This particulate is made condensation in clouds (Rosenfeld et al. 2000),
up of soils and sands blown from dry sea surface temperature rise (Giannini et al.
environments like deserts and raises the albedo of 2008), or due to shifts in rainfall patterns (Kelley
any area that it occupies, usually warming the 2014), most data supports the conclusion that the
surface air below (Bierwirth et al. 2008). This Sahara is getting warmer and drier as it is
rise in albedo effects radiative forcing in the area, influenced by global climate change.
for example Li et al. (2004) showed that in North Desert dust that gets transported around
Africa, the radiative forcing of Sahara dust was the globe is having an effect on global climate
between -61 Wm-2 and -86 Wm-2 which is change that is quantifiable in some way. Even
significant when looking at localized models and across long distances, aerosols from the Sahara
forecasts. These impacts can spread out due to can cause changes to cloud composition,
global wind patterns and cause radiative impacts precipitation, albedo, and temperature (Kaufman
in the Atlantic (Prospero and Lamb 2003) and as et al. 2002). It is important to research these
far away as Germany (Bangert et al. 2012). This effects to get a closer understanding of climate
spread of Saharan dust is known as the dust change, especially when the changing climate has
plume. such an impact on the deserts themselves. Many
The issue when quantifying dusts models disagree on how to model future change
impacts on a global scale is that desert dust is not (Giannini et al. 2008), which represents a lack of
homogenous and the fluctuating amount of dust understanding about the deserts own impact
in the atmosphere makes it difficult to correctly reflecting oversimplifications in the treatment of
model or measure their affects. The solution dust emissions in the current generation of
presented in this research is to look at desert dust models (Tegen et al. 2002).
as covering an area and comparing that areas This research presents a model scenario
______________________________________ run on the EdGCM system that accounts for
vastly increased dust in the atmosphere coming
*
Corresponding author address: Forest D. from an extreme case of dust output from the
Stevens, UTNN, Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences, Sahara in order to examine how desert aerosols
CPO #129, 2500 University Avenue, Nashville, impact global climate change. In this paper the
TN 28804-8511; e-mail: fstevens@unca.edu model scenario will be referred to as the Sahara
Dust Extreme Case (SDEC).
2. DATA AND MODELING Table 1. Comparisons between areas of the globe
affected by decreased radiative forcing from the
2.1 Defining an Extreme Case control area of the Sahara Desert to the most extreme
case
Running this model requires certain
Area Percent Luminosity
assumptions about the conditions of the Sahara
Effected Coverage Value
Desert. To define this experiment as model run
by of Total (Wm-2)
under an extreme case, all values used to calculate
lowered Global
radiative forcing due to desert aerosols from the
Radiative Surface
Sahara are maximized. The first assumption is Forcing area* (%)
that the Sahara Desert was growing in size, (km2)
supported by Giannini et al. (2008) and Liu et al.
(2001). The value chosen to represent this growth
is the fastest recorded growth period of the Sahara
from Tucker et al. (1991) of 5.5km2 a year. The Control, 9.0 1.7643599 1366.6198
next assumption is that desert dust is escaping the Measured million
boundaries of the Sahara, the previously 1958
mentioned dust plume. The length of the dust 1000km 22776315 4.4650686 1363.0254
plume used here is the measurement supported by Dust
Prospero and Lamb (2003) of roughly 1000km. Plume**
The value used to calculate the impact of dust on
solar radiation in the area that the dust occupies is 100 years 22776865 4.4651764 1363.0253
-80.5Wm-2, the average of seasonal maximum of 5.5 km2
values from Li et al. (2004). Assuming that all expansion
areas within the Sahara Desert and under the dust
plume are affected by this modified value of solar *The global surface area used in this
radiation uniformly gives us the basis of the calculation is 5.101x108 km2.
SDEC.
**1000km is taken as the standard value for
2.2 Other Data and Model Variables the length of the dust plume and is present in
several sources: Prospero and Lamb (2003),
The environmental forcing changed by this and Roberts and Knippertz (2014).
extreme increase in dust effected area is the This is the fastest historically recorded
global average luminosity. This change in growth rate of the Sahara Desert, from
luminosity was calculated using a surface area Tucker et al. (1991).
weighted average as shown in Table 1. The final
3. RESULTS
value for global average luminosity used in this
experiment is the most extreme case after 100 Using global average luminosity as a way
years of rapid desert growth, 1363.0253Wm-2. to model the increase in Sahara dust is difficult as
The modified luminosity was added to the base any small change in the Saharan system could
EdGCM Global_Warming_01 simulation and the result in localized temporary changes that are
associated data files (Chandler et al. 2005). This difficult to quantify on a larger scale. This means
simulation without the modified luminosity was that much of the extreme case model simulated
used in tandem with IPCC AR5 report to provide for this research is very similar to the control run
control data (IPCC 2014). The CO2 forcing used models. For example, global average
for all simulations is linear until 2000CE and temperature projections are an easy way to
exponential from 2000-2100CE. visualize climate change over time. The global
average surface temperature for the year 2100
reached in the IPCCs business as usual
(RCP8.5) simulation is around 4.5C higher than
the 1901-2000 averaged temperature base value in a manner similar to what is described by
of 13.8C (IPCC 2014). Other control models Rosenfeld et al., a feedback loop of
output similar temperature deviation values desertification (2000); otherwise it could be
ranging from 0.3C to 4.8C with the EdGCM caused by similar errors as those described above
control model returning a year 2100 global for temperature.
average surface air temperature value of 3.2C.
The SDEC output returned a value of 2.9C.
While lower than the EdGCM control, a global
average surface air temperature of 2.9C is within
the confidence range of most of the IPCCs model
scenarios, as shown by Figure 1 (IPCC 2014).

Figure 2. Global average precipitation by year for the


SDEC and Global_Warming_01 control

4. CONCLUSION

Modeling an increase in dust from the


Sahara Desert in a climate change scenario results
in little difference from the control simulation.
Even in the most extreme of plausible cases, an
increase in desert aerosols that lowers regional
surface solar radiation does little to change future
Figure 1. Temperature deviation from the 1900-2000 climate. At the very most, global average surface
global average surface temperature by model air temperature is projected to be lower than most
models predict until the year 2050, and the global
The later start date and modified starting average precipitation is projected to be lower than
luminosity of the SDEC model gives the plot of the control predictions by a small amount
global average surface temperature change over throughout the 21st century. Further research is
time a characteristic dip in the early 21st century. still needed to determine in greater detail the
For these reasons the early 21st centurys lower impact of desert aerosol on climate change, yet
temperature differences are inaccurate. In later hopefully the SDEC simulation can be used as a
years, beyond 2030, the SDEC models lower base for future study.
temperature can be explained by a slight (1.1%)
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