Sahara desert

Sahara dust outbreak across the Atlantic

3 March 2004 00:56 UTC-10 March 12:00 UTC

Sahara desert
Sahara desert

In early 2004, the massive storm formed a huge arc of thick dust that swept over the Canary Islands for a number of days, dropping a significant amount of dust.

Last Updated

24 May 2022

Published on

05 March 2004

Every year, strong winds blowing over the Sahara lift hundreds of millions of tons of dust high into the sky over North Africa. Depending on the season, the dust may be blown across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe or over the Atlantic Ocean.

Carried aloft by trade winds, the heavier particles quickly drop back to earth. Those that survive the journey across the oceans are a hundred times smaller than the diameter of the finest human hair. The dust often reaches the Western Hemisphere, where it fertilizes bromeliads in Brazil; dirties windshields across the southeastern United States, and causes brilliant red sunsets across the American Southwest.

The dust normally arrives in the Caribbean by mid- June, and doesn't disappear until the autumn. Islanders see the results most vividly at sunset: the opalescent glow that ordinarily lights the sky in these regions becomes a muddy shade of burnt orange

The Meteosat-8 images from 3 to 10 March 2004 below show a major dust outbreak from Western Africa across the Atlantic. For the colour interpretation, please click on the interpretation link below the top images.

On 3 March 2004, the massive storm formed a huge arc of thick dust that swept over the Canary Islands, where it dropped a significant amount of dust. This event was captured by various satellites, including Meteosat-8 and NASA's Terra and Aqua.

Met-8, 03 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Figure 1: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 3 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Met-8, 03 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Figure 2: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 3 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Met-8, 04 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Figure 3: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 4 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Met-8, 04 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Figure 4: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 4 March 2004, 12:00 UTC

On its travel southward, the cold air fanned out across the Sahara, highly diverging over subtropic regions giving the dust front the form of a Spanish fan. In the following days, the dust was blown out across the Atlantic Ocean and reached the coast of South America.

Dust storm over West Africa and the Canary Islands
Figure 5:  Meteosat-8 Dust RGB, 3 March 2004, 12:00 UTC

See also the Met-8 Dust RGB animation from 2–3 March and the Met-6 IR Loop for comparison.

Dust storm over West Africa and the Canary Islands
Figure 6: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite VIS0.8, IR3.9r, IR10.8–IR8.7, 3 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Dust storm over West Africa and the Canary Islands
Figure 7: Meteosat-8 Channel 12 (HRV), 3 March 2004, 17:00 UTC

See also the hourly HRV animation (12:00–18:00 UTC).

Dust storm over West Africa and the Canary Islands
Figure 8: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite NIR1.6, VIS0.8, VIS0.6, 3 March 2004, 17:00 UTC

See also the Animation (12:45–19:00 UTC)

On 5 March 2004, the dust, still thick and well visible in the satellite images, reached the Cape Verde Islands and the shores of Western Europe. In the following days, the dust crossed the Atlantic Ocean and reached South America and the Caribbean Sea. During this process, the dust got thinner and thinner (smaller dust particles and smaller aerosol optical thickness) making it less visible in the satellite images. However, on 10 March 2004 large amounts of fine dust were still well visible in the area of the Gulf of Guinea.

Met-8, 05 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Figure 9: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 5 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
 Met-8, 05 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Figure 10: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 5 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Met-8, 06 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Figure 11: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 6 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
 
Met-8, 06 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Figure 12: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 6 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Met-8, 07 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Figure 13: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 7 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Met-8, 07 March 2004, 12:00 UTC&
Figure 14: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 7 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Met-8, 08 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Figure 15: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 8 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Met-8, 08 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Figure 16: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 8 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Met-8, 09 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Figure 17: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 9 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Met-8, 09 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Figure 18: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 9 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Met-8, 10 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Figure 19: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 10 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Met-8, 10 March 2004, 12:00 UTC
Figure 20: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite, 10 March 2004, 12:00 UTC

Additional content

300 hPa ECMWF model potential vorticity field (on Met-8 airmass RGB image, 3 Mar 2004, 12:00 UTC)
Met-6 IR image (3 Mar 2004, 12:00 UTC)
1000 hPa ECMWF model wind and divergence fields (on Met-8 RGB image, 3 Mar 2004, 12:00 UTC)
MODIS image with 2000 m resolution (3 Mar 2004, 14:15 UTC, Credit: NASA)
MODIS image with 250 m resolution (3 Mar 2004, 14:15 UTC, Credit: NASA)
Met-8 Animation produced with METLook (3 Mar 2004, Credit: Univ. of Lille)