Response of the eastern subtropical Atlantic SST to Saharan dust: A modeling and observational study

N. Martínez Avellaneda, N. Serra, P. J. Minnett, D. Stammer

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21 Scopus citations


Retrievals of aerosol optical depth (AOD) from MODIS, and of sea surface temperature (SST) from TMI are analyzed jointly with the output of a numerical model for the period 2000-2006 to determine the impact of Saharan dust on the eastern subtropical North Atlantic SST. Simultaneously with, or shortly after strong dust outbreaks, a decrease in SST of 0.2° to 0.4°C can be observed in the microwave SST data set, which is consistent with an independent estimate of SST decrease simulated here by a local mixed layer model. However, low wind conditions and a shallow mixed layer are required to reach this response, and it is therefore unlikely that a clear response of SST to dust lasting more than a few days can be seen in the microwave SST observations. An inspection of microwave SST observations suggests that about 30% of SST variance could be explained by dust-induced cooling in our study region that is not represented in existing AVHRR SST fields nor represented in reanalysis centers-provided surface heat fluxes. On longer time scales, a comparison between observed SST fields and simulated SST, using an eddy-permitting model of the North Atlantic, suggests a cooling of about 0.5°C on the local SST on sub-seasonal to interannual time scales which is significantly correlated and consistent with a dust-induced cooling. However, while supportive of the hypothesis that Saharan dust lead to a reduction in SST, the eddy-resolving model results are not by themselves conclusive. Moreover, the effects of dust-induced cooling on simulations of the ocean circulation, on atmospheric forecasts and on climate simulations remains to be investigated in future studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberC08015
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Oceanography


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