Satellite captures Saharan dust blowing over the Atlantic

Posted at 4:58 PM, Oct 10, 2012
and last updated 2012-10-10 17:23:51-04

Check out this image captured from space.  NASA’s Aqua satellite took this picture on Monday, October 8th, of Saharan dust blowing over the Atlantic Ocean.  Dust plumes, originating from sandstorms, were seen extending from the western Sahara Desert in Africa to the west of the Cape Verde Islands.

This sea of sand is called the Saharan Air Layer or the SAL. The SAL is a hot, dry, dusty air that blows off the Saharan Desert into the Atlantic Ocean, sometimes extending almost completely across the Atlantic. In fact, the SAL has obscured sky conditions in the West Indies, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas in the past.

According to, when this image was taken, it was the second day that winds had produced dust storms in the region. That dust, in turn, was transported to sea toward the Cape Verde Islands – an area where hurricanes, some of them major, are known to develop.  Cape Verde hurricanes typically form in August and September. However, there have been hurricanes to form in this region in late July and early October.

Images like this are useful in studying hurricanes. There have been some meteorologists and scientists who have found through their research that dust inhibits hurricane formation. According to weather expert Stan Blazyk, a lecturer at Texas A&M, the dust prevents air from rising over the tropics and producing thunderstorms, creating a much more stable atmosphere. Other research suggests the dust blocks out sunlight, tending to cool ocean temperatures below the ideal temperature to form hurricanes (The American Geophysical Union).

While some hurricanes have formed near the Cape Verde Islands during the month of October, tropical systems typically develop in the Caribbean and the western Atlantic this time of the year, according to the National Hurricane Center.