Who is the chief culprit of dust concentrations over East Asia?

September 08, 2017

Dust, one of the major aerosol species contributing to the global aerosol burden and optical depth, is a very active component in the physical, chemical and biogeochemical cycle of the Earth system. In addition, dust aerosols induce tremendous adverse effects on the social and economic development. A case study for the dust storm in Beijing indicated that total economic loss due to dust storm ranging from 2,268.5 million RMB (US$273.3 million) to 5,796 million RMB (US$698.3 million). Increased concentrations of particulate matter in the atmosphere during dust storms can also lead to acute damage to respiratory systems and long-term damage such as desert pneumoconiosi.

Located in the central Tarim Basin (Figure 1a), the Taklimakan Desert (TD) covers an area of approximately 337,600 km2, making it the largest desert in China and the second largest drifting desert in the world. The TD has long been regarded as the major source of dust concentrations over East Asia. Nevertheless, researches have underestimated the importance of the Gobi Desert (GD) playing in the contribution to the East Asian dust concentrations and there are still a great gap existing in the related studying on the GD. There are large uncertainties in the quantification of the contributions of the TD and GD dust to the total dust concentrations over East Asia.

A latest research "Comparison of dust emissions, transport, and deposition between the Taklimakan Desert and Gobi Desert from 2007 to 2011" published in SCIENCE CHINA Earth Sciences 2017. This research is done by Jianping Huang research group at Lanzhou University in China (the first author Siyu Chen is the team member). The quantitative differences in dust emissions, transport and wet/dry deposition over the TD and the GD in different seasons from 2007 to 2011 based on the WRF-Chem model combined with satellite retrievals were compared in the study. Authors further comprehensively analyzed reasons for these differences.

The research found that dust emissions, uplift, and long-range transport related to these two dust source regions were markedly different due to divergences in topography, elevation, thermal conditions, and atmospheric circulation. Although the TD is of the greatest dust emission capacity over East Asia, the GD is the major contribution to the East Asian dust concentrations rather than the TD. To be more specific, the TD is located in the Tarim Basin and surrounded by mountains on three sides. Furthermore, the dominant surface wind direction is eastward and the average wind speed at high altitudes is relatively small over the TD. As a result, the TD dust particles are not easily transported outside the Tarim Basin, such that most of the dust particles are re-deposited after uplift, at a total deposition rate of about 40 g m-2. It is only when the TD dust particles are uplifted above 4 km, and entrained in westerlies that they begin to undergo a long-range transport.

Compared with the TD, the topography of the GD is relatively flat, and at a high elevation, and the area is under the influence of two jet streams at high altitudes, resulting in high wind speeds in the upper atmosphere. Deep convective mixing enables the descending branch of jet streams to continuously transport momentum downward to the mid-troposphere, leading to enhanced wind speeds in the lower troposphere over the GD which favors the vertical uplift of the GD dust particles. Therefore, the GD dust was very likely to be transported under the effect of strong westerly jets, and thus played the most important role in contributing to dust concentrations in East Asia. Approximately 35% and 31% of dust emitted from the GD transported to remote areas in East Asia in spring and summer, respectively.

The research provides a new perspective based on the previous work. It emphasizes that the GD dust should pay attention to the responsibility in the dust concentrations and the related climate effect induced by dust over East Asia. These studies also appeal for the desertification control in the GD regions.
See the article: Chen S Y, Huang J P, Li J X, Jia R, Jiang N X, Kang L T, Ma X J, Xie T T. 2017. Comparison of dust emissions, transport, and deposition between the Taklimakan Desert and Gobi Desert from 2007 to 2011. Science China Earth Sciences, 60: 1338-1355, doi: 10.1007/s11430-016-9051-0


Science China Press
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