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Mineral dust is the most important natural aerosol type by mass, with northern Africa the most prominent source region worldwide. Dust particles are lifted into the atmosphere by strong winds over arid or semiarid soils through a range of emission mechanisms, the most important of which is saltation. Dust particles are mixed vertically by turbulent eddies in the desert boundary layer (up to 6km) or even higher by convective and frontal circulations. The meteorological systems that generate winds strong enough for dust mobilization cover scales from dust devils (~100m) to large dust outbreaks related to low- and high-pressure systems over subtropical northern Africa (thousands of kilometers) and include prominent atmospheric features such as the morning breakdown of low-level jets forming in the stable nighttime boundary layer and cold pools emanating from deep convective systems (so-called haboobs). Dust particles are transported in considerable amounts from northern Africa to remote regions such as the Americas and Europe. The removal of dust particles from the atmosphere occurs through gravitational settling, molecular and turbulent diffusion (dry deposition), as well as in-cloud and sub-cloud scavenging (wet deposition). Advances in satellite technology and numerical dust models (including operational weather prediction systems) have led to considerable progress in quantifying the temporal and spatial variability of dust from Africa, but large uncertainties remain for practically all stages of the dust cycle. The annual cycle of dustiness is dominated by the seasonal shift of rains associated with the West African monsoon and the Mediterranean storm track. In summer, maximum dust loadings are observed over Mauritania and Mali, and the main export is directed toward the Caribbean Sea, creating the so-called elevated Saharan Air Layer. In winter the northeasterly harmattan winds transport dust to the tropical Atlantic and across to southern America, usually in a shallower layer. Mineral dust has a multitude of impacts on climate and weather systems but also on humans (air pollution, visibility, erosion). Nutrients contained in dust fertilize marine and terrestrial ecosystems and therefore impact the global carbon cycle. Dust affects the energy budget directly through interactions with short- and long-wave radiation, with details depending crucially on particle size, shape, and chemical composition. Mineral dust particles are the most important ice-nuclei worldwide and can also serve as condensation nuclei in liquid clouds, but details are not well understood. The resulting modifications to cloud characteristics and precipitation can again affect the energy (and water) budget. Complicated responses and feedbacks on atmospheric dynamics are known, including impacts on regional-scale circulations, sea-surface temperatures, surface fluxes and boundary layer mixing, vertical stability, near-surface winds, soil moisture, and vegetation (and therefore again dust emission). A prominent example of such complex interactions is the anti-correlation between African dust and Atlantic hurricane activity from weekly to decadal timescales, the causes of which remain difficult to disentangle. Particularly in the early 21st century, research on African dust intensified substantially and became more interdisciplinary, leading to some significant advances in our understanding of this fascinating and multifaceted element of the Earth system.


Konrad Ott and Frederike Neuber

The means to combat dangerous anthropogenic climate change constitutes a portfolio. Beside abatement of greenhouse gas emissions, this portfolio entails adaptation to changing climate conditions, and so-called climate engineering measures. The overall portfolio has to be judged on technical, economic, and moral grounds. This requires an in-depth understanding of the moral aspects of climate engineering options. Climate engineering (CE) is a large-scale intentional intervention either in carbon cycles (carbon dioxide removal; CDR) or in solar radiation (solar radiation management; SRM). The ethical discourse on climate engineering has gained momentum since the 2010s. The set of arguments pro and contra specific CE technologies constitute a vast landscape of discourse. Single arguments must be analyzed with scrutiny according to their ethical background, their normative premises, their inferential logic, and their practical and political consequences. CE ethics, then, has a threefold task: (a) it must suppose a solid understanding of different CE technologies and their risks; (b) it has to analyze the moral arguments that speak in favor or against specific CE technologies; and (c) it has to assess the impacts of accepting or rejecting specific arguments for the overall climate portfolio’s design. The global climate portfolio differs from ordinary investment portfolios since stakes are huge, moral values in dispute, risks and uncertainties pervasive, and collective decision-making urgent. Any argument has implications of how to design the overall portfolio best. From an ethical perspective, however, one must reflect upon the premises and inferential structures of the arguments as such. Analysis of arguments and mapping them logically can be seen as core business of CE ethics. Highly general arguments about CE usually fall short, since the diverse features of individual technologies may not be addressed by overarching arguments that necessarily homogenize different technologies. It can be stated with confidence that the moral profiles of CDR and SRM are highly different. Every single deployment scheme ought to be judged specifically, for it is a huge difference to propose SRM as a substitute for abatement, or to embed it within a comprehensive climate portfolio including abatement and adaptation, where SRM will be used sporadically and only for a matter of decades.