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University of Leeds (2014)

Characterising dust emission events from long-term surface observations in northern Africa

Cowie, Sophie Margaret

Titre : Characterising dust emission events from long-term surface observations in northern Africa.

Auteur : Cowie, Sophie Margaret

Université de soutenance : University of Leeds

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 2014

Dust plays multiple important roles in the Earth system with emissions from northern Africa contributing on the order of 60% to the global total. Current model estimates of annual dust production from this crucial region vary by a factor of up to 5. This low agreement between models is to a great extent due to differences in the representation of near-surface winds. One barrier to better understanding of wind processes is the sparse observation network in northern Africa combined with regionally varying, but not necessarily documented, reporting procedures that lead to uncertainties and biases. Previous studies have utilised long-term station observations of visibility over this region to investigate dust climatology, but this work is the first to focus specifically on emission, based on quality-controlled reports from station observers and measurements of 10 m wind-speed. The interannual, seasonal and diurnal cycles of dust emission frequency (FDE), as well as trends, are investigated using existing and new analysis methods, such as the estimation of emission thresholds. Spatially, it is shown that threshold wind-speeds for dust emission are highest in northern Algeria and lowest in Sudan and around the latitude band 16◦N - 21◦N. FDE peaks in spring at most stations, while in the Sahel seasonal cycles vary between stations depending on their proximity to the Saharan Heat Low, and as a result of seasonal exposure to both the summer monsoon and winter Harmattan. Seasonally, FDE is largely controlled by changes in strong winds, rather than changes in emission thresholds. The relative contribution of different wind-speeds to dust uplift are investigated using the observed winds and calculated thresholds. Case studies and field campaign data are analysed to determine the plausibility of SYNOP high-wind reports. In northern regions, 50% of uplift is associated with high winds which occur only 0.3% - 0.5% of the time. This contrasts with an occurrence range of 0.7% - 2.5% for southern regions. Winds of 12 – 15 ms−1 contribute the most to northern total DUP, while in the south the range is lower at 7-11 ms−1. A percentage occurrence of 0.3% equates to only 5.5 events per year. Previous studies have documented changes in the dust output from northern Africa on interannual to decadal time scales, though the reasons for this variability are still debated. This study shows that the likely contributors to an observed decreasing trend in FDE are changes in circulation patterns, changes to the Bowen ratio and, most significantly, the effect of a change in roughness on wind-speed as a result of a greening of the Sahel. This work forms a base for further investigations into mechanisms for dust emission in northern Africa and their relative importance, as well as providing reference material for model and reanalysis evaluation.

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