In situ observations and output from a numerical model are utilized to examine three dust outbreaks that occurred in the northwestern Sonoran Desert. Via analysis of these events, it is shown that trapped waves generated in the lee of an upwind mountain range produced high surface wind speeds along the desert floor and the observed dust storms. Based on analysis of observational and model output, general characteristics of dust outbreaks generated by trapped waves are suggested, including dust-layer depths and concentrations that are dependent upon wave phase and height above the surface, emission and transport associated with the presence of a low-level jet, and wave-generated high wind speeds and thus emission that occurs far downwind of the wave source. Trapped lee waves are ubiquitous in Earth’s atmosphere and thus it is likely that the meteorological aspects of the dust storms examined here are also relevant to understanding dust in other regions. These dust outbreaks occurred near the Salton Sea, an endorheic inland body of water that is rapidly drying due to changes in water-use management. As such, these findings are also relevant in terms of understanding how future changes in size of the Salton Sea will impact dust storms and air quality there.
Dust storms are ubiquitous in Earth’s atmosphere, yet the physical processes underlying dust emission and subsequent transport are not always understood, in part due to the wide variety of meteorological processes that can generate high winds and dust. Here we use in situ measurements and numerical modeling to demonstrate that vertically trapped atmospheric waves generated by air flowing over a mountain are one such mechanism that can produce dust storms. We suggest several features of these dust outbreaks that are specific to their production by trapped waves. As the study area is a region undergoing rapid environmental change, these results are relevant in terms of predicting future dust there.
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