The analysis by atmospheric scientists and climate researchers in the US and Europe attempts to tally the varied, complex ways in which dust has affected global climate patterns, concluding that overall, it has worked to somewhat counteract the warming effects of greenhouse gasses. The study, published in Nature Reviews Earth and Environment, warns that current climate models fail to take into account the effect of atmospheric dust.
“We’ve been predicting for a long time that we’re headed toward a bad place when it comes to greenhouse warming,” said Jasper Kok, an atmospheric physicist who led the research. “What this research shows is that so far, we’ve had the emergency brake on.”
Dust, along with synthetic particulate pollution, can cool the planet in several ways. These mineral particles can reflect sunlight away from the earth and dissipate cirrus clouds high in the atmosphere that warm the planet. Dust that falls into the ocean encourages the growth of phytoplankton – microscopic plants in the ocean – that absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.