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Real-Time Dust Storm Forecasting

When a severe dust storm hit the Middle East back in April 2015, extremely low visibility resulted in hundreds of road accidents, dozens of flight delays, and even school closures. Not only was this arguably the most severe dust storm of the year, it also marked an important achievement for a team of researchers at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology – the dust storm validated the researchers’ dust model, which simulated the dust storm ahead of time, making it one of the most effective dust models to date for predicting dust storms in the region.

The web-based forecasting system is available online at http://atlas.masdar.ac.ae/forecast/.

“This is a turning point in the region’s ability to properly manage the impacts of dust storms. With access to accurate forecast of dust events and sandstorms, people can better prepare for them. This information will be extremely useful for the transportation sector, as it will help show motorists, pilots and air traffic controllers where the dust will be and for approximately how long,” said Dr. Hosni Ghedira, Director of the Research Center for Renewable Energy Mapping and Assessment (ReCREMA) and Professor of Practice at Masdar Institute.

By being able to better predict the UAE’s dust storms, the country can more effectively and efficiently manage its agricultural sector, renewable energy infrastructure, transportation, health, environment and climate policy – key socio-economic sectors affected by dust storms – and provide advanced warning ahead of extreme dust events in order to reduce risk to human life.

Dr. Ghedira is part of the research team that is the first to use the advanced chemistry-transport model called CHIMERE over the Middle East to simulate dust concentrations across the region. CHIMERE is an open source model for air quality forecasting and simulation that enables researchers to enter weather and land surface parameters such as wind speed, relative humidity, air temperature, and soil composition over a specified region to produce forecasts of atmospheric ozone, aerosols and other pollutants and run simulations for emission control scenarios.

Other members include Post-Doctoral Researcher Dr. Naseema Beegum Shyju, Research Scientist Dr. Imen Gherboudj, and Research Scientist Dr. Naira Chaouch. The work was also performed in close collaboration with research partners at King Abdulah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE), Saudi Arabia.

“Other dust models exist, but they are not really providing an exact estimation of aerosols over the region,” explained Dr. Ghedira.

“CHIMERE is able to forecast spatiotemporal variability of the dust storms in reasonably good accuracy,” he added.

Because the UAE’s dust does not originate in the UAE – it is transported mostly from the Empty Quarter (the world’s largest sand desert encompassing most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula), Iran, and North-Africa – the model covers the wider Middle East region, including the Arabian Peninsula, the eastern coast of Africa that borders the Red Sea, and the southern part of Iran.

The dust forecasting system is similar to the UAE Solar (http://solaratlas.masdar.ac.ae/) and Wind (http://windatlas.masdar.ac.ae/) Atlases created by ReCREMA. The atlases provide near-live satellite maps of the UAE’s solar and wind resources. Both are publicly available and have been integrated into the Global Atlas for Renewable Energy platform of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

In a region full of dust, there are few chemistry-transport models that simulate the atmospheric dust cycle, which influences the weather system and in turn society and key economic sectors. Researchers at Masdar Institute are responding to this through several dust-focused research projects, including a comprehensive characterization of the UAE’s dust – where it comes from, average duration and frequency of dust storms throughout the year, and its effect on the atmosphere. This research has found that severe dust storms are occurring more frequently in the UAE, accelerating the need for a reliable and accurate dust forecasting system for the region.

Other researchers are developing dust-resistant and self-cleaning solar panels, to help mitigate the effects of dust storms on the country’s renewable energy resources.

The limited visibility produced by dust storms cause road accidents and flight delays and can severely damage aircrafts. The high levels of mineral dust and other pollutants wafted into the air during a dust storm can trigger asthma, respiratory diseases, and other infectious diseases. Dust storms can also render solar panels ineffective and can have detrimental effects on agricultural crops. Thus, through the configured and calibrated dust forecasting system at Masdar Institute, the UAE will be better equipped to prepare for and tackle the negative impacts of dust storms.

 

Erica Solomon
News and Features Writer
18 July 2016

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