Static electricity intensifies sandstorms

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — The friction of myriads of particles moved by the wind creates variable electric fields inside sandstorms in deserts. Researchers from Italy and Morocco, who worked in western Sahara, first showed what role this electricity plays in the development of the storm.

The authors report the results in an article published by the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

During friction of grains of sand, electrons from larger particles pass to fine dust, giving it a negative charge. Starting from each other, dust particles rise higher and are carried by the wind, and positively charged large particles of dust form the lower layer of the storm.

This creates dynamic electric fields, which theoretically should contribute to the involvement of an increasing number of particles in flight. However, Francesca Esposito and her colleagues first managed to show this effect directly.

At a weather station in southwestern Morocco, scientists installed instruments for accurate measurements of wind speed and humidity, pressure and brightness of light, temperature and electric field 2 meters above the surface of the earth. Data was collected during periods of maximum sandstorms in the seasons 2013 and 2014.

Observations made it possible to show that a storm – and just dusty vortices – always accompanies an increase in electrostatic voltage. If the wind was gaining sufficient strength, it would raise about an order of magnitude more particles into the air than theoretical models that do not take into account the influence of electric fields can explain.

According to scientists, the mechanism operates on the principle of positive feedback: the number of moving dust particles rapidly enhances the electromagnetic field, which, in turn, increases the number of particles carried by the wind.

The authors suggest that similar processes can make a significant contribution to the behavior of the global climate.

Atmospheric particles and dust particles play an important role in it, and their electrification can seriously change their dynamics, determining the heating of some layers of air and the cooling of others. Moreover, climate models still do not take into account the influence of this factor.


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