Dust Event Detection

Science Center Objects

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. We document dust emissions that are detectable from digital images collected by satellite, and (or) ground-based remote digital camera stations.

Dust emission from sources in the southwestern United States is important on local and regional scales because of its effects on air quality, human health and safety, snow melt timing and water management, and on ecosystem function through the depletion and (or) addition of soil nutrients.

One goal of this catalog is to compliment ongoing work focusing on the effects of dust deposited on mountain snow cover,, with an emphasis on dust compositions that affect snow albedo. We also document dust events that do not have a direct bearing on dust-on-snow studies. Satellite imaging of dust-storms does not detect all important dust activity for several reasons.

Dust emission from many point sources in the Little Colorado River Valley on the southern Colorado Plateau. Dust is being transported towards snow cover in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. MODIS image from April 3, 2009.

The image on the right shows dust on snow throughout the Rocky Mountains, especially in the San Juan Mountains. This image shows conditions after the dust layers that were deposited over the WY2009 dust season have merged together due to snow melt. The dust in this image includes the dust emitted from the southern Colorado Plateau shown in the image to the left. This MODIS image is from May 18, 2009.


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. 

We are integrating multiple methodologies and technologies to detect dust events. Various factors make satellite imaging of dust-storms problematic and a basic summary of the strengths and weaknesses of each platform can be examined here: Satellite Data Comparison Chart

Each marker on the map below catalogs known dust storm sources and events we have recorded using various techniques and imaging platforms. 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. 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.

ISKY Dust Camera
(Public domain.)