In the Media

Atmospheric Rivers Dust the Alps

December 8, 2021

Atmospheric rivers are long stretches of cloud that can carry enormous quantities of water vapour from the tropics towards the poles. They were first described in 1994 and since then have come to be understood as the major mechanism transporting moisture from lower latitude oceans to higher latitude land masses, where they dump that moisture as snow and rain.


With her longstanding interest in how dust is moved around by atmospheric phenomena, atmospheric scientist, Diana Francis, at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, wanted to investigate these dusty rivers, their cause and effects.


Francis and her team determined that, while these atmospheric rivers normally flowed from the tropical Atlantic over the Alps, in early 2021 they had instead been pushed south by high pressure in the north Atlantic so that they passed over North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea, collecting not only dust but also warmth and moisture.


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