Every year, billions of tons of fine particles are eroded from the surface of the Sahara Desert and the Sahel of West Africa, lifted into the atmosphere by convective storms, and transported thousands of kilometers downwind. Most of the dust is carried west to the Americas and the Caribbean in the Saharan Air Layer (SAL). Dust air masses predominately impact northern South America during the Northern Hemisphere winter and the Caribbean and Southeastern United States in summer. Dust concentrations vary considerably temporally and spatially. In a dust source region (Mali), concentrations range from background levels of 575 micrograms per cubic meter (mu/u g per m3) to 13,000 mu/u g per m3 when visibility degrades to a few meters (Gillies and others, 1996). In the Caribbean, concentrations of 200 to 600 mu/u g per m3 in the mid-Atlantic and Barbados (Prospero and others, 1981; Talbot and others, 1986), 3 to 20 mu/u g per m3 in the Caribbean (Prospero and Nees, 1986; Perry and others, 1997); and >100 mu/u g per m3 in the Virgin Islands (this dataset) have been reported during African dust conditions. Mean dust particle size decreases as the SAL traverses from West Africa to the Caribbean and Americas as a result of gravitational settling. Mean particle size reaching the Caribbean is <1 micrometer (mu/u m) (Perry and others, 1997), and even finer particles are carried into Central America, the Southeastern United States, and maritime Canada. Particles less than 2.5 mu/u m diameter (termed PM2.5) can be inhaled deeply into human lungs. A large body of literature has shown that increased PM2.5 concentrations are linked to increased cardiovascular/respiratory morbidity and mortality (for example, Dockery and others, 1993; Penn and others, 2005).
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Concentrations of Semivolatile Organic Compounds Associated with African Dust Air Masses in Mali, Cape Verde, Trinidad and Tobago, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, 2001-2008