Dust Storm in the Taklimakan Desert

Dust Storm in the Taklimakan Desert

An intense dust storm formed over Western China’s Taklimakan Desert on April 23, 2012. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image at 3:20 p.m. local time (7:20 UTC). MODIS on the Terra satellite captured a similar image of the storm at 1:40 p.m. local time (5:40 UTC).

Sitting inside the Tarim Basin, the Taklimakan Desert is the warmest, driest, largest desert in China, and it ranks among the world’s largest shifting-sand deserts. Sand dunes cover about 85 percent of the desert floor, some of them reaching 200 meters (650 feet) in height. The sand dunes provide plentiful material for dust storms. Like this one, dust storms generally blow eastward over China.

The Taklimakan Desert lies farther away from the world ocean than almost anyplace else on Earth, yet this desert’s dust can still affect the ocean. In May 2007, one study found, dust-veiled clouds lofted high into the atmosphere managed to circle the globe. On the dust’s second trip over the northwestern Pacific Ocean, changing weather patterns forced the dust into lower levels of the atmosphere and some of the dust landed in the ocean. Another study found Taklimakan dust reaching the Pacific Ocean in August 2009.

Such dust can supply nutrients to marine ecosystems, sometimes fertilizing phytoplankton blooms. In addition, the May 2007 dust particles might have seeded the formation of cirrus clouds.

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. Caption by Michon Scott.

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