New study links dust to increased glacier melting, ocean productivity

Mar 01, 2012
A new University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science-led study in the journal Science shows a link between large dust storms on Iceland and glacial melting. The dust is both accelerating glacial melting and contributing important nutrients to the surrounding North Atlantic Ocean. This is the aerosol sampling station, Heimaey, Westerman Islands, Iceland. Credit: UM/RSMAS

A University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science-led study shows a link between large dust storms on Iceland and glacial melting. The dust is both accelerating glacial melting and contributing important nutrients to the surrounding North Atlantic Ocean. The results provide new insights on the role of dust in climate change and high-latitude ocean ecosystems.

UM Rosenstiel School Professor Joseph M. Prospero and colleagues Joanna E. Bullard and Richard Hodgkins (Loughborough University, U.K.) analyzed six years of concentrations collected at the Stórhöfi research station on the island of Heimaey, which is located 17 km (10.5 mi) off the south coast of Iceland. The results show large increases in dust concentration, which can be traced to dust sources adjacent to major glaciers on Iceland.

As the glaciers melt, rivers of black, volcanic-rich sediments flow into the surrounding land and nearby . Intense windstorms, common in the high-latitudes, eventually sweep up the dried sediments. The resulting are clearly visible in satellite images that show huge dust plumes extending hundreds of kilometers south over the Atlantic Ocean. Iceland glaciers are melting at a high rate due to global warming and to sub-glacial volcanic activity.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
A University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science-led study in the journal Science shows a link between large dust storms on Iceland and glacial melting. The dust is both accelerating glacial melting and contributing important nutrients to the surrounding North Atlantic Ocean. The results provide new insights on the role of dust in climate change and high-latitude ocean ecosystems. Credit: Strategic Ocean Solutions

"The dust in Iceland dust storms can also have an impact on the glaciers themselves," said Prospero, UM Rosenstiel professor emeritus and lead author on the study. "The black dust deposited on the glacier surface absorbs solar radiation thereby increasing the rates of glacial melting."

Iceland dust can also affect ocean processes over the North Atlantic. The researchers suggest that the iron-rich dust provides a late summer/early fall nutrient boost to the typically iron-depleted waters. The iron increases the ocean's primary productivity and stimulates the growth of marine biota. This, in turn, increases the draw down of CO2 from the atmosphere to the ocean.

Currently there is much research on global atmospheric dust processes but most of this research focuses on tropical and arid regions in Africa and the Middle East, the most active dust sources. This study is one of the few to look at high-latitude areas, and is the first to review measurements over such a long time period (February 1997 to December 2002).

The study shows that the dust transport in cold, high-latitude regions, such as Iceland, are comparable to concentrations seen at low regions near the equator, in particular, the well known Saharan dust transport across the mid Atlantic, from the west coast of Africa to the Caribbean and South Florida.

Due to increased air temperatures linked to global , glaciers worldwide are rapidly retreating. The melting of glaciers, including those on Iceland, would also contribute to sea level rise.

"The dust processes taking place on Iceland are likely to be occurring in other high latitude glacierized regions," said Prospero. "Similar glacier-related dust storms have been seen in Alaska and in Patagonia. On the basis of this research we might expect that cold climate dust activity will become more widespread and intense as the planet warms."

Explore further: Earthquakes occur in 4 parts of Alaska

More information: The study, titled "High-Latitude Dust Over the North Atlantic: Inputs from Icelandic Proglacial Dust Storms," was published in the March 2 issue of the journal Science.

Related Stories

Study ties hurricanes to Sahara

Apr 03, 2007

A U.S. government study suggests that the relatively tame 2006 hurricane season may have been tied to activity in Africa's Sahara desert.

Scientists vacuum up the data on dust

Feb 20, 2010

(AP) -- While most people give it the brushoff, a panel of scientists gathered Friday to focus on dust. Dust in the air. Dust in the oceans. Dust in your lungs. Good dust. Bad dust. And not a can of Pledge in sight.

Recommended for you

Tropical Storm Genevieve forms in Eastern Pacific

Jul 25, 2014

The seventh tropical depression of the Eastern Pacific Ocean formed and quickly ramped up to a tropical storm named "Genevieve." NOAA's GOES-West satellite captured an infrared image of the newborn storm ...

NASA maps Typhoon Matmo's Taiwan deluge

Jul 25, 2014

When Typhoon Matmo crossed over the island nation of Taiwan it left tremendous amounts of rainfall in its wake. NASA used data from the TRMM satellite to calculate just how much rain fell over the nation.

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gmurphy
not rated yet Mar 01, 2012
I've always wondered why glaciers can appear so dirty, this research has some useful insights, I'm particularly interested in how they might go about quantifying the increase in primary production in the oceans as a result of this dust and the impact this would have on CO2 absorption, some hard-core sciencing I'd reckon...
gregor1
1 / 5 (6) Mar 01, 2012
Finally some good research that isn't blinded by the CO2 meme. Pysorg still seems to be addicted to dogma though with blanket statements like this
"Due to increased air temperatures linked to global climate change, glaciers worldwide are rapidly retreating. The melting of glaciers, including those on Iceland, would also contribute to sea level rise The temperatures have been rising as we are coming out of the little ice age but the links to CO2 are tenuous at best.
astro_optics
1 / 5 (4) Mar 01, 2012
Hmmm... we should have the dust or Iron tax next...perhaps ?
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Mar 02, 2012
Finally some good research that isn't blinded by the CO2 meme.

Dust does not contain CO2? :okay: