Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 12, 28195-28235, 2012
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African dust outbreaks over the Mediterranean Basin during 2001–2011: PM10 concentrations, phenomenology and trends, and its relation with synoptic and mesoscale meteorology
J. Pey1,2, X. Querol2, A. Alastuey2, F. Forastiere1, and M. Stafoggia1
1Department of Epidemiology Lazio Region, via S. Costanza, 53, 00198 Roma, Italy
2Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research, IDǼA-CSIC C/Jordi Girona, 18–26, 08034 Barcelona, Spain

Abstract. The occurrence of African dust outbreaks over the whole Mediterranean Basin has been identified on an 11-yr period (2001–2011). In order to evaluate the impact of such mineral dust outbreaks on ambient concentrations of particulate matter, PM10 data from regional and suburban background sites across the Mediterranean area were compiled. After identifying the daily influence of African dust, a methodology for estimating natural dust contributions on daily PM10 concentrations was applied. Our results reveal that African dust outbreaks occur with much higher frequency in southern areas of the Mediterranean, from 30 to 37% of the annual days, whereas they take place less than 20% of the annual days in northern sites. The central Mediterranean emerges as a transitional area, with slightly higher frequency of dust episodes in its lower extreme when compared to equivalent areas in western and eastern sides of the Basin. A decreasing south to north gradient of African dust contribution to PM10 is patent across the Mediterranean. Our study demonstrates that this gradient may be mainly explained by the latitudinal position. A longitudinal increasing trend of African dust contribution to PM10 is also observed from 25° E eastwards, and is due to the annual occurrence of intense dust episodes. Thus, the slightly higher frequency of African dust episodes over the lower part of Central Mediterranean is compensated by its moderately lower intensity. Concerning seasonality patterns and intensity characteristics, a clear summer prevalence is observed in the western part, with low occurrence of severe episodes (daily dust averages over 100 μg m−3 in PM10); no seasonal trend is detected in the central region, with moderate-intensity episodes; and significantly higher contributions are common in autumn-spring in the eastern side, with yearly occurrence of various severe episodes. Overall, African dust emerges as the largest PM10 source in regional background southern areas of the Mediterranean (35–50% of PM10), with seasonal peak contributions to PM10 up to 80% of the total mass.

The multi-year study of African dust episodes and their contributions to PM10 concentrations allowed us to identify a consistent decreasing trend in the period 2006/2007 to 2011 in 4 of the 17 studied regions, all of them located in the NW of the Mediterranean. The observed trend is almost parallel to the NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) index for the summer period, progressively more negative since 2006 onwards. As a consequence, a sharp change in the atmospheric circulation over the last 5 yr (a similar negative NAO period occurred in the 1950 decade) have affected the number of African dust episodes and their mean contribution to PM10 in the NW part of the Mediterranean. The investigation of summer temperatures at 850 hPa suggest that warm air accomplishing African dust air masses moved anomalously through the central Mediterranean in the 2007–2008 period, whereas it was displaced atypically to the NW African coast and the Canary Islands in the 2009–2011 period.

Citation: Pey, J., Querol, X., Alastuey, A., Forastiere, F., and Stafoggia, M.: African dust outbreaks over the Mediterranean Basin during 2001–2011: PM10 concentrations, phenomenology and trends, and its relation with synoptic and mesoscale meteorology, Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 12, 28195-28235, doi:10.5194/acpd-12-28195-2012, 2012.
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