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STAR Scientists' Work Links Sea Surface Temperature and Atmospheric Dust

Satellite image: a dust storm off the coast of Morocco imaged by NASA's MODIS Aqua meteorological satellite 3-12-2009
March 11, 2009 - Over the last few decades, sea surface temperatures (SST) in the Atlantic Ocean have increased significantly. Much recent research has demonstrated the link between increased Hurricane Intensity and increased SST. Work at the University of Wisconsin using NESDIS data sets has shown that since 1980, the amount dust flowing out over the Atlantic Ocean from the Saharan Desert has also decreased dramatically. A recent study published in Science led by Amato Evan and including Andrew Heidinger and James Kossin of NESDIS shows that dust accounts for much of the observed SST variability, as well as the positive SST trend in the region of the Atlantic Ocean where most Hurricanes form. Because the presence of dust acts to cool the ocean surface, a decrease in dust causes an increase in SST. This study highlights the importance of long-term satellite data sets in observing the complex and sometimes unexpected mechanisms that control the earth's climate. The data set used in this study was the NESDIS PATMOS-x (Pathfinder Atmospheres Extended) generated from the 30 years of Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) data on the POES platform.