SEP 01, 2017 2:16 PM PDT

What does the dust blow in?

You may be surprised by what the wind gusts around the world. Scientists know that dust from Asia blows across the Pacific on jet stream currents carrying pollution, soil, sediments, and other chemicals. Knowing where such dust is coming from can help us understand atmospheric circulation, contaminant pathways, and even climate patterns; but determining the point source of such dust isn’t easy.

In order to do it, a team of scientists used cathodeluminescence (CL) spectral analysis of tiny quartz grains to differentiate between the Gobi and the Taklimakan Deserts, two main Chinese dust sources. "The cathodoluminescence spectra of single quartz grains provide crystal-chemical features in quartz, such as impurities and imperfections," explains leader Kana Nagashima. Those features, she says, vary with the conditions of quartz formation and later geological events such as metamorphism.

CL spectroscopy is a technology that is able to distinguish impurities and imperfections in crystal-chemical features in quartz that depend on the conditions affecting quartz from the beginning of its formation toward present day, explains the study. Analyzing this geologic history means that the scientists can draw conclusions on which characteristics signify which source points.

Source rocks of the Gobi Desert have a lot of volcanic rock while those from the Taklimakan don’t have as much volcanic composition. Because of this known difference, the researchers collected dust grains collected from loess, riverbeds, and sand dunes; they looked at 268 quartz grains from the Gobi and 311 grains from the Taklimakan to see if the difference would carry over to the dust.

The weather phenomenon called Yellow Sand or Asian Dust has been known to engulf cities in South Korea. Photo: Stars and Stripes

The scientists had the right hunch; their results showed that certain crystal-chemical characteristics matched the percent of different rock types from each desert. This has big implications: we will now be able to use CL spectroscopy techniques in order to better comprehend the ways that dust affect global climate.

Sources: Science Daily, Geological Society of America

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
OCT 27, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Why doping polycrystalline solar cells improves efficiency
OCT 27, 2020
Why doping polycrystalline solar cells improves efficiency
While there is certainly a fair amount of warranted pessimism about the future of our planet, there is also warranted op ...
NOV 22, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Solar Power Stations in Space Could Answer Global Energy Needs
NOV 22, 2020
Solar Power Stations in Space Could Answer Global Energy Needs
W/hile renewable energy technologies have developed exponentially in recent years, a major barrier towards their adoptio ...
DEC 14, 2020
Earth & The Environment
The luck behind our survival
DEC 14, 2020
The luck behind our survival
A study published in the Nature journal Communications Earth & Environment comments on the reasons why Earth ha ...
JAN 18, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Another record we didn't want: 2020 was the hottest year yet
JAN 18, 2021
Another record we didn't want: 2020 was the hottest year yet
It will likely come as no surprise that 2020 held another record that we wish it didn’t: hottest year on record. W ...
JAN 19, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Tracking the deep chlorophyll maximum with sea-faring robots
JAN 19, 2021
Tracking the deep chlorophyll maximum with sea-faring robots
In an interdisciplinary collaboration, researchers from MBARI, the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, and Woods Hole Oc ...
FEB 10, 2021
Cardiology
Finding the Link Between Air Pollution & Heart Disease
FEB 10, 2021
Finding the Link Between Air Pollution & Heart Disease
While many studies have shown that air pollution is linked to negative health impacts including poor cardiovascular heal ...
Loading Comments...