Quantifying the role of agriculture to the global dust cycle

Theme: Earth, Atmosphere & Ocean Processes

Primary Supervisor:

Daniel Schillereff

Department of Geography, KCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Nick Drake

Department of Geography, KCL

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Project Description:

Airborne dust is an important vector of nutrients and a major contributor to poor air quality and has critical effects on global climate. Human activities have intensified the emission, transportation and deposition of dust in recent decades, in part due to the conversion of land for agriculture, which has doubled in size globally this century. The factors influencing when and how much dust is emitted, subsequent transport dynamics and the composition of agricultural dust remains poorly understood, however. This project will carefully quantify the contribution of agricultural land to the global dust cycle by combining remote sensing with field measurements and monitoring:
Dust plumes produced during and after harvests will be traced using a combination of satellites with different spatial and temporal resolutions including SEVIRI, MODIS, Sentinel 2 and Planet.
The physical and geochemical properties of dust source material (e.g. soils, crops) will be determined via field and lab measurements.
Airborne dust will be tracked from source to depositional zones using bespoke Arduino dust collectors and physical and geochemical properties determined.

There may also be scope to employ fine-resolution dust transport models. Study sites will be determined in collaboration with the student to encompass global hotspots of semi-arid and temperate cropland.

Policy Impact of Research:

This project will refine understanding of agriculture as a contributor to the global dust cycle, with implications for air quality, nutrient cycling and climate. In doing so, the project will contribute valuable new data to discourse and policy development around current and future management practices of agricultural land.


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