May 30, 2024

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Can blowing desert sand prevent global warming?  “Something structural is needed”

Can blowing desert sand prevent global warming? “Something structural is needed”

The Netherlands is once again covered by a thin layer of Sahara sand. A lot of research is being done on the effects of spreading that sand on climate and ocean temperature, but: “To combat global warming, you need something structural.”

It's not great for your car or solar panels, but it's a great subject for a coffee machine in action: desert sand.

Thin white cloud layer

Let's start from the beginning: How does sand from the North African desert end up in the Netherlands? “These are huge columns of sand picked up by the wind,” explains TU Delft atmospheric researcher Herman Russchenberg.

“This sand can travel long distances, as it does now.” He says you can recognize it as fog in the atmosphere. “It looks a little like a thin white layer of clouds.”

More or less clouds

Saharan sand in the air affects Earth's temperature to some extent, Rauschenberg says. “After all, the little sunlight that doesn't penetrate that thin layer of clouds can't warm the Earth.” Sand can also stimulate cloud formation. Those extra clouds block the sunlight.

But there is also another side, he continues. “Through crystalline motion, desert sand can cause clouds to empty and disappear, allowing more sunlight to reach the Earth.” This does not make much difference for the climate, according to the TU professor: “It is a temporary effect that fades after a few days.”

“There is no magic cure”

KNMI climate expert Peter Siegmund agrees. “It would have to happen often to have an effect on climate. In terms of the effect on temperature, desert sand is no different than a regular cloud. It also blocks light a little. But not enough to 'manipulate' a regular cloud. Climate.”

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Siegmund continues: “To combat global warming, you need something that provides more cooling structurally. And that is not available now. Desert sand is not a magic cure, it is something very natural. It is above all something that creates beautiful sunsets and a dirty car that causes “

The temperature of the Atlantic Ocean is rising

However, there is a possibility that the Sahara's blown sand could be used to combat climate change, Rauschenberg says.

It refers to the strong warming the Atlantic Ocean experienced last fall. “One explanation for this is that there are fewer desert sand clouds.”

Balloons contain dust particles

The TU professor confirms that this research is still in the hypothetical stage. “In theory, you should constantly pump desert sand into the atmosphere, because it blocks sunlight.”

This doesn't seem like a wise idea to him. “There are smarter techniques to achieve the same thing. You can take planes or balloons containing tiny dust particles – called aerosols – into the stratosphere (a layer in the atmosphere, ed.).”

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