A dust storm in Greenland? Beautiful satellite images show one far north of the Arctic Circle

By Tom Yulsman | October 17, 2018 10:49 am
A large dust plume — 'glacial flour' — blows from a valley on Greenland's east coast

A large plume of dust is seen streaming from a valley on Greenland’s east coast in this image acquired by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 spacecraft on September 29, 2018. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

In late September, a dust storm erupted in a seemingly unlikely place: high in the Arctic in Greenland.

It was nothing compared to a Saharan dust storm. Even so, it was large enough to be visible from space. You can see it in the Sentinel-2 satellite image above: a grayish plume of fine silt being swept up by northwesterly winds. The source: a dry bed of a braided river valley that ends in Scoresby Sound on Greenland’s east coast.

This is about 80 miles northwest of Ittoqqortoomiit, a village at a latitude of 73 degrees North, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory. That places the plume at nearly 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

The dust in Greenland is mainly glacial flour, a fine powder created as a glacier scrapes over bedrock. The flour is carried downstream of  the glacier by meltwater streams. In the image above, glacial flour discolors Scoresby Sound where the outwash plain reaches the water.

Before and after satellite images reveal development of the dust plume.

Comparison of images captured by NASA’s Terra satellite on Sept. 27 and 29, 2018, shows the development of a huge plume of dust from a dried out river valley. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

NASA’s Terra satellite also spotted the blowing plume of glacial flour, as seen in the before and after images above.

Satellite images captured over a series of days leading up to the event shows the braided river drying out and turning increasingly gray. The drying allowed the northwesterly winds of the 29th to pick up the fine-grained sediment and carry it from its source.

“This is by far the biggest event detected and reported by satellites that I know about,” said Santiago Gassó of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, quoted by NASA’s Earth Observatory. He first noticed and Tweeted about the storm on October 3.

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ImaGeo

ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.

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