Climate models miss most of the coarse dust in the atmosphere

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Science Advances  08 Apr 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 15, eaaz9507
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz9507


Coarse mineral dust (diameter, ≥5 μm) is an important component of the Earth system that affects clouds, ocean ecosystems, and climate. Despite their significance, climate models consistently underestimate the amount of coarse dust in the atmosphere when compared to measurements. Here, we estimate the global load of coarse dust using a framework that leverages dozens of measurements of atmospheric dust size distributions. We find that the atmosphere contains 17 Tg of coarse dust, which is four times more than current climate models simulate. Our findings indicate that models deposit coarse dust out of the atmosphere too quickly. Accounting for this missing coarse dust adds a warming effect of 0.15 W·m−2 and increases the likelihood that dust net warms the climate system. We conclude that to properly represent the impact of dust on the Earth system, climate models must include an accurate treatment of coarse dust in the atmosphere.

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