Last update: June 27th, 2019 at 7:00 am
A large dust storm was blowing over Iraq toward the Persian Gulf, obscuring the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image on January 21, 2006. Moving in a southeasterly direction, the storm moved over the city of Baghdad and the network of rivers, lakes, and wetlands to the southeast of the city. In this image, the dust appears as tendrils of pale beige, partially obscuring the underlying land areas. Immediately to the north and east of the dust storm is heavy cloud cover. Winds associated with weather systems can stir up dust storms in arid regions, so the dust storm and heavy cloud cover may be related.
According to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.s Forecasting Dust Storms Website, the source regions for these storms, including source regions in Iraq, can be surprisingly small. Like billowing smokestacks, these areas can produce dust plumes that spread out to cover wide areas. In this case, the dust may be coming from salt pans and wadis on either side of the Syrian border, north of the Euphrates River. These areas are usually associated with fine sediment that is easily kicked into the air when the wind blows, says Andy Ballantine from University of California, Santa Barbara. Several smaller plumes are visible in the image; they are also blowing from Northwest to Southeast, both further west and in Southern Iraq.
Dust storms are a major health concern as well as a hazard to navigation. The U.S. military uses satellite images to track storms in Iraq and to improve meteorological forecasting for the region; the accurate forecasting of dust storms is essential in planning both air and ground operations.
Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC