Strong winds from Australia’s desert interior tugged a thick cloud of dust over southeastern Australia and the South Pacific Ocean. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this true-color, photo-like image of the dust storm on September 12, 2009. The tan cloud is thick and concentrated, forming a coherent mass over the water. By September 14, the dust would cloud skies over New Zealand, reducing visibility to less than 10 kilometers, said The Press, a New Zealand newspaper.
A small plume south of the Australian coast reveals where the dust was coming from. According to news reports, the dust originated from the Lake Eyre basin, a vast lake that fills only during the rainy season of exceptionally wet years, but remains dry during other seasons. As water evaporates from the lake, it leaves a fine layer of sediment that is easily lifted in the wind. Sediment from dry lakebeds is a significant source of airborne dust worldwide.
The large image provided above has a resolution of 250 meters per pixel. The image is available in additional resolutions from the MODIS Rapid Response System.
The plume of dust that swept over the South Pacific Ocean from Australia on October 13, 2009, was delicate, almost ghostly, compared to the large, dense plume of dust that darkened much of the east Australian coast on September 23.