Climate research: Desert dust can pull methane from the atmosphere

Climate research: Desert dust can pull methane from the atmosphere

So annoying, that layer of desert dust you sometimes find on your car? Well, but desert dust also has a very useful function, According to a study It was published at the end of July in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Because desert sands combat the greenhouse gas methane.

Less methane in Barbados

Methane is the gas that contributes most to global warming after carbon dioxide. It is released during fossil fuel production, waste processing, and livestock farming. Although methane emissions are lower than carbon dioxide emissions, their impact is much stronger.

Jan-Berend Stuut from NIOZ knows all about the processes in which seawater and sand play a role. He also participated in the investigation. “We started looking into the effect of desert dust on methane because we found that the atmosphere in the Caribbean island of Barbados has less methane each summer. That region often has to deal with desert dust that is emitted from the desert.”

Researchers later discovered that a chemical reaction occurs when desert dust is blown over the sea. “Iron is found in desert dust. This iron, like chlorine from the evaporation of seawater, binds to methane thanks to sunlight. The binding of iron and chlorine ensures that the methane is broken down and not damaged,” Stott explains.

Only effective over sea

This natural process sounds like good news for the climate. Maurice Middendorp, a meteorologist at Buienradar, agrees. “Methane is a very polluting greenhouse gas, so getting that out of the atmosphere would be very welcome.”

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There are hurdles, according to Middendorp. “Saharan dust would have to be blown over the sea, otherwise this process wouldn’t happen. Furthermore, more methane could be removed from the atmosphere if more Sahara dust were transported around the world. We don’t have a picture yet of what wind patterns will look like in the future. And whether the number of desert storms will increase. In addition, other adverse effects may occur.”

The effect is still not clear

Middendorp basically wonders how much methane is being broken down by this process. “One percent methane, or ninety percent, so to speak. That makes a huge difference in climate gains.”

Researcher Store says this is a valid comment. “To get a picture of the actual impact on climate change, we need to do more research on how much methane is extracted from the atmosphere by this chemical process. But this finding is positive.”

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