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September 28, 2020
Have We Got Dust All Wrong?

Scientists are challenging conventional notions of how dust particles are aligned; “everything we’ve so far hypothesized about the impact of dust on the atmosphere might be misplaced.”

The “Godzilla” Saharan dust plume that clouded over parts of the United States in June 2020 created a lot of talk and a lot of magnificent sunsets. Dust is an intriguing type of matter, vital for the formation of clouds and precipitation. We also know that if enough dust gathers in the atmosphere, it can block solar radiation. But what if some of these dust-related assumptions were slightly dusty—or completely wrong?

Members of the Remote Sensing of Aerosols, Clouds and Trace Gases (ReACT) team are trying to find out. The team, a group of atmospheric and climate scientists operating under the umbrella of the National Observatory of Athens (NOA), says the main reason for this “dust misconstruction” may be that we have failed to grasp the correct dust particle orientation in the first place.

“Dust particles might be vertically aligned,” said Vassilis Amiridis, a climate scientist and team leader of ReACT, as well as director of research at NOA. Amiridis is resuming what a research project in La Palma, Canary Islands, proposed in 2007. In that instance, researchers from the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom and Macquarie University in Australia used optical polarimetry observations during a Saharan dust episode and found evidence indicating the presence of vertically aligned dust particles in the atmosphere