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Title: Patterns and causes of spatial and temporal variability of dust presence in the central and western Sahara
Author: Ashpole, Ian
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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Dust is a critical component of the Earth System. The central and western Sahara (CWS) is the dustiest place on Earth during the northern hemisphere summer. Understanding patterns and causes of spatial and temporal variability of dust presence here is essential for its reliable simulation in numerical models of weather and climate. Four papers in this thesis contribute to that objective, utilising a combination of high temporal resolution satellite data and global atmospheric reanalyses for June – August 2004 – 2010 inclusive. The first paper develops an objective dust detection scheme for the CWS using data from the Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager (SEVIRI), which are available every 15 minutes around the clock. These data have shed valuable insight on CWS dust processes, but their subjective application has to date limited their range of applications. The SEVIRI dust flag (SDF) developed here is evaluated against other widely used surface and satellite derived indicators of dustiness and it is found to reliably detect the presence of moderate-heavy dust loadings. The distribution of dust each summer is presented, revealing a high degree of interannual variability in overall dust coverage. The second paper utilises SDF to create an objective, high spatial resolution dust source map, based on the automated tracking of individual dust plumes. The most active sources are associated predominantly with palaeo-lakes and outwash plains, typically around the Saharan mountains. There is a clear intraseasonal progression of active source areas, controlled by regional climatology. The tracking scheme describes the transport trajectory of dust events following their initiation and the spatial association with deep convection at this time, revealing a clear regional divide in the relative importance of known meteorological mechanisms that drive dust emission from the dominant sources. The third paper uses an unsupervised clustering algorithm to classify maps of daily dust presence frequency and identify patterns of intraseasonal variability in CWS dust coverage. The resulting idealised dust states vary according to frequency of dust occurrence and its location, demonstrating a clear progression in preferred dust location from June – August and preferred state transitions from one day to the next. High daily dust occurrence frequency corresponds to an advanced West African Monsoon flow and low daily dust occurrence frequency corresponds to a Harmattan-dominated CWS. The overall location of the dust is linked to the location of the Sahara Heat Low, which changes as the summer progresses. The final paper addresses interannual variability in summertime dust presence frequency by comparing the 2 years with highest (2005) and lowest (2008) dust presence. The key difference is the occurrence of 3 multi-day periods in 2005 characterised by anomalously high dust presence. Case study comparison with the 3 periods of highest dust presence in 2008 identifies the anticyclonic circulation of the midtroposphere as a key control on dust duration over the CWS, dictating whether emitted dust is efficiently transported away from the CWS or whether it remains in suspension over the region for prolonged periods of time, up to several days in the anomalously dusty periods of 2005.
Supervisor: Washington, Richard Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Geography ; Africa ; Arid environmental systems ; Climate systems and policy ; Atmospheric chemistry ; Atmospheric,Oceanic,and Planetary physics ; Sahara; Aerosol; Mineral dust; Climate; Remote Sensing