What dust may have to do with Earth's rapidly warming poles

Jan 10, 2013
What dust may have to do with Earth’s rapidly warming poles
A 2005 dust storm over the Gulf of Alaska originated with glacial sediments left by retreating glaciers. Credit: NASA

(Phys.org)—As earth's climate warms, scientists have tried to understand why the poles are heating up two to three times faster than the rest of the planet. Airborne dust, it turns out, may play a key role.

In a new study in Nature Climate Change, researchers show that at the peak of the last ice age, some 21,000 years ago, the poles were 10 times dustier than today, while areas closer to the equator had twice as much dust. During this time of extreme cold, New York City was under two miles of ice and up to 12 degrees F colder than today while Greenland was about 45 degrees F colder. The study's authors suggest that higher concentrations at the poles during the last ice age helped to cool earth's surface and prevent snow and sea ice from melting during summer.

Lambert has traveled to Antarctica to extract ice cores that contain a record of dust and climate fluctuations in the past. Credit: Patrik Kaufmann

Strong winds sweep dust containing tiny mineral particles from the ground and into the air, across continents and oceans. In the atmosphere, dust influences climate by reflecting and absorbing sunlight, influencing cloud formation and seeding the oceans with nutrients that allow to grow. In today's world, the poles have relatively little dust. Scientists are unsure why the polar regions were so much dustier during than interglacials like today, but stronger winds and changes in and probably played a major role.

Climate modelers have struggled to reproduce the extreme cooling that took place at the poles compared to the rest of the planet during the last ice age, casting doubt on the accuracy of their forecasts. "This failure makes it hard for to accurately predict how much warmer the poles will get in the future," said the study's lead author, Fabrice Lambert, a at Korea Institute of and Technology. "We find that the models underestimate glacial polar dust concentrations as well."

Today, temperatures are rising rapidly as humans put large amounts of heat trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into the air. Could dust help to cool things off? Some scientists think that the future could be dustier as climate change, the razing of forests and over pumping of ground water create more deserts. In Asia and Africa, a doubling of dust emissions in some regions over pre-industrial levels has already occurred. At the same time, increases in soot and other industrial atmospheric particles that warm the climate could more than offset any dust-related cooling.

"Humans are changing the planet in so many ways that it's hard to say how it all will influence climate in the end," said study coauthor Gisela Winckler, a geochemist at Lamont-Doherty. "We know that dust and other atmospheric particles are an important piece of the puzzle, and that more observations from the past can help us better understand what will happen in the future."

Explore further: Wastewater injection is culprit for most quakes in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico

More information: www.nature.com/nclimate/journa… ll/nclimate1785.html

Related Stories

Ice cores map dynamics of sudden climate changes

Jun 19, 2008

New, extremely detailed data from investigations of ice cores from Greenland show that the climate shifted very suddenly and changed fundamentally during quite few years when the ice age ended. Researchers ...

Saharan dust impacts West African monsoon precipitation

Mar 21, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Africa's Saharan Desert is the largest source of mineral dust in the world, covering more than 3 million square miles and causing dust particles to blanket African skies. According to Pacific ...

Recommended for you

NASA HS3 instrument views two dimensions of clouds

4 hours ago

NASA's Cloud Physics Lidar (CPL) instrument, flying aboard an unmanned Global Hawk aircraft in this summer's Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel, or HS3, mission, is studying the changing profile of the atmosphere ...

Research drones launched into Hurricane Edouard

7 hours ago

U.S. government scientists are launching winged drones into Hurricane Edouard, hoping to collect data that could help forecasters understand what makes some storms strengthen into monsters while others fade away.

User comments : 10

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.2 / 5 (18) Jan 10, 2013
What this seems to indicate is that human activities are simultaneously both heating and cooling the planet. Do the climate models account for this? Thought not.
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 10, 2013
... it might be the lack of pollutants, in the pole regions, that makes the poles more rapidly warming, compared to the rest of the Earth ... it might just show us the real extend of the CO2 greenhouse effect, which is somewhat hampered by human made pollutants (remember the measured rise of the average temperature in US cities, after the ban on air-traffic in the wake of 911).
3.9 / 5 (15) Jan 10, 2013
Anonym: "Do the climate models account for this? Thought not."

I sure wish you had understood the article - and also had some understanding of the process of modeling. That would be asking too much. An interesting quote I saw recently "On the internet - you can be anything you want to be - it is strange that so many people choose to be stupid"
2 / 5 (20) Jan 10, 2013
The plural of pole is indeed "poles" but when there's only two of them and the dominant one as far as being in the middle of 90% of the world's ice mass is in fact *cooling* and sea ice extent steadily *increasing*, well, such headlines are exposed as being lies:


-=NikFromNYC=-, Ph.D. (also from Columbia University but in the hard science of carbon chemistry, not from one of those off-campus institutes whose very existence is threatened by real data from the icy continent at the bottom of the world).
3.4 / 5 (15) Jan 10, 2013
Nik: "and the dominant one as far as being in the middle of 90% of the world's ice mass is in fact *cooling*"

You are a liar NikFromNYC - Antarctica is not cooling. This discussion has been had so many times on this board. The data on Antarctica is not as complete as in the Arctic. The west is clearly warming, the east not so much - the overall trend is warming. Here is a full analysis of the situation - with plenty of data and references for Nik with his Phd. http://en.wikiped...troversy Does having a Phd give you permission to tell lies?
4.3 / 5 (11) Jan 10, 2013
Nik: Does having a Phd give you permission to tell lies?

I'm with you djr. Unfortunately even "intelligent" people can lack common sense and critical faculty. They latch onto internet myths and only take on board evidence, which in their minds reinforces their prejudice. Any evidence to the contrary is a scam by the worlds scientists in some dark Marxist agenda or, more basely, simply a means to riches. Or, of course, you have the simple refutation of the science as though they know it better than the scientists in the field. Would they maintain they know better than their doctor? Especially on some serious problem. You would consult others to get 2nd, 3rd opinions yes, but only the desperate or stupid would go to a psychic surgeon.
4 / 5 (12) Jan 10, 2013
"Would they maintain they know better than their doctor?"

Totally agree runrig - the Dr. argument is the one I use all the time when they attack science. I have a good friend who is uber religious - and truly believes that if he goes to a healing service at his church - God will heal him. Recently he was diagnosed with stage 4 neck cancer - and he is now undergoing really serious radiation and chemo therapies that are very traumatic. People don't see the contradiction between claiming this distrust for the solutions of science - and how their way is so much better - until the rubber meets the road. Oh well......
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 10, 2013
Lot of volcanic activity in Iceland and Alaska recently.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 11, 2013
Lot of volcanic activity in Iceland and Alaska recently.

Which may or may not be related to AGW, to one extent or another.

What is your point?

3.4 / 5 (8) Jan 11, 2013
Yes. And they have done for many decades now.

Aerosol cooling from both volcano's and sulfate emissions are a common model parameter.

"Do the climate models account for this?" - AnonTard

In a world awash with information, you elect to remain ignorant.