Children cover themselves during a dust storm in New Delhi, India, on May 13 2018. Picture: REUTERS
Children cover themselves during a dust storm in New Delhi, India, on May 13 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Vienna — A huge plume of Saharan-desert dust has painted European landscapes a reddish-brown hue reminiscent of Mars, reducing air-quality and solar-power production across southern swathes of the continent. 

Dust kicked up by storms over Algeria last week was transported north and deposited throughout European mountain ranges stretching from the Pyrenees to the Alps, climate monitors reported on Tuesday. Measurements of airborne particulate matter that can endanger health were several orders of magnitude larger than normal. 

“We saw air-quality values in the affected regions drop significantly,” said Mark Parrington, a scientist at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. “The impact of the Saharan dust clouds is clearly visible for affected cities, such as, Barcelona or Marseille.”

Europe’s climate service has tracked the dispersion of dust from previous Saharan storms as far as the Gulf of Mexico. This week’s event was predicted by Copernicus models, which combine data from scientists in the UK, France, Germany, Italy and the US. The agency uses billions of measurements from satellites, ships, aircraft and weather stations around the world for its monthly and seasonal forecasts. 

“Our forecasts, even those from February 2, were very reliable in describing the size and extent of the dust plume as well as its development and direction,” Parrington said. Airlines and utilities are among the companies that use Copernicus data to make business decisions. 

Improving the accuracy of weather forecasts has become increasingly critical as the world tries to mitigate climate change. Timely information about wind flows and solar radiation are needed for grid operators to plan intermittent electricity. Air quality and emissions data inform policy decisions on congestion management and tariffs.


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