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Publication Date
27 June 2017

Dust Helps Sweep Out Pollution

Yang Yang, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

It might seem surprising to know that dust actually helps clear the air. That’s what scientists found in a recent study published in Nature Communications.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers, working with scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology, and Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, used model simulations to look at the air over eastern China and found that dust promotes winds to whisk away manmade pollution. Without dust, the air doesn’t move, so the pollution hangs around and builds up.

The dust in the region comes from the Gobi Desert in northern China and southern Mongolia, as well as the highlands of northwest China, but scientists found that the Gobi had a much larger influence.

“Less dust in the atmosphere causes more solar radiation to reach the surface,” PNNL researcher Yang Yang told the British Broadcasting Corporation. “It weakens the temperature difference between the land and the sea, and impacts the circulation of the winds and causes a stagnation over eastern China, and that causes an accumulation of air pollution.”

Research showed that, during the winter, reduced dust levels led to a 13 percent increase in human-caused pollution over eastern China.

For more informationread PNNL news release More natural dust in the air improves air quality in eastern China.

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