The Australian dust storm as seen from space – Dry lake Eyre not Global Warming?

There’s been quite a bit of buzz about the dust storm in Australia that hit Queensland, New South Wales, and NSW city Sydney on September 23rd. Pictures like the ones below have been all over the web.

Left: National Post Tim Wimborne/Reuters, Right: AP Photo/Rob Griffith

But it is the photos taken from space that are the most interesting I think. NASA’s Earth Observatory captured a truly amazing photo that shows the dust storm front as it swept across the continent and headed out to sea over eastern Australia where the borders of Queensland and NSW meet.

Dust over Eastern Australia

That dust headed to sea has an unappreciated benefit – it will fertilize the ocean with its mineral rich dust. There may be some interesting blooms of sea life in the weeks to come.

There’s also a cool Google Earth KML file to download and use with the space imagery.

MODIS image from NASA Earth Observatory click for large image
download large image (6 MB, JPEG) acquired September 23, 2009

download Google Earth file (1 KB, KML)

Here’s what the Google Earth file will do – overlay the cities and borders. This is a very wide zoom from Brisbane to Sydney. Using the Google Earth KML file and zooming in further yields much more detail.

click for a larger image
click for a larger image

NASA narrative for this image: A wall of dust stretched from northern Queensland to the southern tip of eastern Australia on the morning of September 23, 2009, when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image. The dust is thick enough that the land beneath it is not visible. The storm, the worst in 70 years, led to canceled or delayed flights, traffic problems, and health issues, reported the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News. The concentration of particles in the air reached 15,000 micrograms per cubic meter in New South Wales during the storm, said ABC News. A normal day sees a particle concentration 10-20 micrograms per cubic meter.

Strong winds blew the dust from the interior to more populated regions along the coast. In this image, the dust rises in plumes from point sources and concentrates in a wall along the front of the storm. The large image shows that some of the point sources are agricultural fields, recognizable by their rectangular shape. Australia has suffered from a multiple-year drought, and much of the dust is coming from fields that have not been planted because of the drought, said ABC News.


  1. The high-resolution image provided above is at MODIS’ full spatial resolution (level of detail) of 250 meters per pixel. The MODIS Rapid Response System provides this image at additional resolutions.
  2. Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. (2009, September 23). Dust settles as storm rolls north. Accessed September 23, 2009.
  3. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. Caption by Holli Riebeek.

As WUWT reader Keith Minto writes:

This is the best image I can find of the dust storm that passed over eastern Australia. NASA has images from 12 Sept showing it coming from Lake Eyre. Apparently when lakes dry after having water they leave behind very fine particles that is carried up & stays up. Seems that this is a world wide phenomenon, when lakes fill and empty completely and nothing to do with the dreaded Climate Change. In other words, if the lakes did not fill, and the drought was worse, then this might not have happened!  Pity the newspapers did not report this….took me all of 5minutes to piece this together. The earlier image shows the dust originating in Lake Eyre and moving east out into the Tasman sea towards New Zealand, and as far as the media was concerned it did not happen. It’s the old story, if an event does not touch large cities it is a non event.

Sept 12th MODIS image from NASA showing dust from Lake Eyre:

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September 23, 2009 10:53 pm

Keth Minto’s analysis is now being verified from a number of sources. Furthermore Lake Eyre only had water in it this year because of massive rains. This of course did not stop the ABC and Sydney Morning Herald (same stable as The ‘if everyone believes it, no point debating the science’ Age) jumping in within hours with a drought /global warming explanation.

September 23, 2009 11:07 pm

“There’s been quite a bit of buzz about the dust storm in Australia that hit Queensland, News South Wales and Sydney on September 23rd.”
FYI, Sydney is part of New South Wales not separate from NSW.
Just sayin’, that’s all.
They might have been able to see the dust storm from space but I could only see as far as the house across the road the dust was so thick in my street in Brisbane.
REPLY: I edited a bit to make it clearer, I know Sydney is within NSW, but for locals like yourself my description may have sounded odd. – Anthony
However, it was only the second biggest dust storm I have seen!

September 23, 2009 11:22 pm

A guy named Ian Mott posted this excellent explanation for the dust storms below at Jennifer Marohasey’s blog:
“The Australian Bureau of Meterology (BoM) is being highly misleading by claiming that the dust has originated in part from NSW. The storm hit Broken Hill from the west and that city is only 40km from the state border. So all the talk about dryer than usual conditions in the western half of NSW is fatuous irrelevant crap.
Indeed, any link to agriculture in this instance has no substance. The wind direction on 23/09/09 clearly places the source of this dust as North Western SA and South Western NT, one of the least intensive agricultural regions on the planet. Most of it is actually aboriginal land.
It is also the case that just a few months ago Eastern NT and North Eastern SA had one of the lushest and most widespread groundcovers for a few decades. That ground cover has not been grazed off. It has dried out but it remains in situ between the deeper rooted species that are still doing OK.
It is intellectually sloppy to be assigning blame for the intensity of a Sydney dust storm on a minor variable like desert vegetation cover. Even a rudimentary grasp of physics would indicate that the primary variable was the intensity of the wind over exposed desert soils and its persistence in transporting the load as far as the east coast. Winds can vary from zero km/h to 100+km/h while normal dry season sandy desert soils will vary between 90% exposed to 100% exposed (ie 0 to 10% FPC). And of course, the gibber (stony) deserts have even less variation.
Less than 2% of our Australia is subject to cropping and only a small portion of that is caught in the small window of exposed soil and strong dry winds. The overwhelming majority of it involves a successful crop (a ground cover) followed by retained stubble, including retained root systems, followed by re-emergent pasture or weeds.
It is almost trite to remind people that only a tiny portion of the 2% cropping land is in the western half of NSW. Even less of it is north of the Bight. And it has always been the case in the past. It is also the case that overgrazed pastures still have a complete root system in place to bind the soil. The fact that the casual observer cannot see it does not negate its presence. So while it is possible that minor localised dust storms might have been possible from past farming practices, the big ones were almost entirely natures work.
Winds blow. And sometimes they blow over deserts and pitch up dust. Get used to it.”

September 23, 2009 11:24 pm

As recently as mid-July, Australian tourism operators were flying visitors to Lake Eyre to observe birdlife and wetlands after the big 2009 wet season. There would need to have been a climate event on a biblical scale for evaporation to have happened at Lake Eyre since then, in order to produce the dust we received in coastal NSW yesterday.
I favour the unplanted cropland theory for the origins of the dust that now coats every horizontal and vertical surface in my home. Cleaning sucks (sigh).

Ben M
September 23, 2009 11:30 pm

Youtube video of it:

REPLY: The description on YouTube says “Driving through a dust storm between Wilcania and Broken Hill, in NSW Australia on 21 Dec 2007. ” so I don’t think it is the one we are discussing here. Interesting video though. -A

September 23, 2009 11:51 pm

Surely the bottom line is “Biggest in 70 years”. So, in or around 1939 there was a LARGER dust storm. What does this prove? AGW, or that these things happen every now and again? Apart from concern about having to clean the dirty places, this cannot merit international hysterics.
Geoff Alder

Graeme Rodaughan
September 23, 2009 11:56 pm

The Alarmist Media can not help but to Interpret “Weather Events” within the confines of the Dominant AGW Narrative.
Story Telling trumps Relating Facts.
Unfortunately – too many people are seemingly unaware that the Media does not have a distinction between telling stories and relating facts.

September 23, 2009 11:59 pm

Not “unprecedented”
“The dust storm reached central Sydney at 11am, reducing visibility to a few kilometres.”
“Bureau of Meteorology records show that Sydney was also affected by dust storms in April 1994, September 1968, December 1957, and January 1942, when the most severe dust storm to hit the city reduced visibility at Sydney airport to 500 metres.”

Ben Douglas
September 24, 2009 12:01 am

Concerning the origins of the dust, being red in colour, it obviously had to have come from desert regions of central Australia which is precisely the same colour red as the dust storm.
I’ve lived in Alice Springs, N.T. in the centre of Australia and the dust storms there were the same colour as the red dust storm I witnessed yesterday in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

September 24, 2009 12:01 am

Jennyinoz (23:07:51) : However, it was only the second biggest dust storm I have seen!
When was the biggest?

September 24, 2009 12:02 am

The Australian has reasonable summary identifying Lake Eyre as the source but then goes on about the drought being the cause failing to mention the recent unusual rains in the Lake Eyre basin.
The storm was generated by an intense cold front moving across drought-affected areas in South Australia and NSW
The media do love their myths.,25197,26117299-5006784,00.html

September 24, 2009 12:18 am

It might be worth noting that the amount of eolian dust in deep-sea sediments and glacier ice has long been known to be a climate proxy. The relationship is:
more dust = colder climate

Keith Minto
September 24, 2009 12:46 am

Scroll down to the text of the September 12 image from MODIS and click on to ‘this Terra image from the same day’ in blue to track its path towards New Zealand.
The dust is on every surface at the moment, it is bright red and appears iron rich and as suggested, should be great ocean fertilizer.
There are descriptions of large plumes of Australian dust on the sea bed, stretching out from the east coast like a flame, towards and beyond New Zealand, going back 18,000 years……..we are just recent observers.
If someone wants to check, it is in a publication by Australian author Bob Beale.

Alan the Brit
September 24, 2009 1:07 am

Well the BBC managed to get a comment in about “some are claiming that this is the unmistakeable sign of Climate Change”. However, they have been a little quiet, apart from the newspapers today, one claiming that the “Greenland ice melt is happening faster than experts expected!” or words to that effect. I will investigate further, as I expect this is news regurgitation in action, particularly as no major mention has been made (as far as I am aware & I don’t include Catlin)) of any Arctic ice melt catasrophe this year.
The logical explanations for the dust storm given above seem perfectly plausible, even to an engineer with basic geological knowledge!

Rik Gheysens
September 24, 2009 1:08 am

I had this reflection concerning countries with deserts. Why not desalinate seawater and bring the water to the dry areas? The energy can come from wind energy or from waste heat produced by industry. Solar energy is known to be not very efficient as source for the desalination process.
Advantages of such operation:
– bring to a halt the desertification,
– green and wet areas cause a cooling of surface temperature,
– slow down the rise of sea level (this latest argument not so convincing? ;-))

September 24, 2009 1:25 am

In central NSW in the wheat belt dust storms used to be a weekly event. Ian Mott has summed it up pretty well IMO.
Naturally tonight on ABC 702 Drive Robyn “100M sea level rise” Williams was saying, No it’s not proof of climate change but it is what climate change predictions have said would happen and another commentator from the global warming rag SMH was talking about how we need to start eating kangaroos because cattle and sheep grazing causes dust storms.

Alan the Brit
September 24, 2009 1:35 am

Looks like old news dredging exercise re Greenland ice melt, no information on BBC’s website or elsewhere so far.

September 24, 2009 2:03 am

I live in the Upper Western area of NSW, and can attest that we copped it just as bad as you coastal folk.
We can’t be blamed for it though. Because of the good rains earlier in the year, there is very little unplanted cropland out here. As a matter of fact, we’re about 2 weeks away from what looks to be a quite decent harvest.
The big western dust storms are quite common (out here anyway), the only reason the world is hearing about this one is that it made it over the mountains and to a coastal metropolitan area. The last one that made it that far was in 1960-something, well beyond what the media calls “living memory”. Generally a decent dust storm occurs here every 3-4 years, this is the second mud dump i’ve been in this year though (the last one was about 5 months ago).

September 24, 2009 2:08 am

Is this Lake Eyre part of any watershed that is drained by a major metro area?

Geoff Larsen
September 24, 2009 2:15 am

Suzannah, I tend to agree with you but Associate Professor Michael Box of the School of Physics said.
“the most likely source of the dust is the Lake Eyre Basin, which a few months ago was a wetland oasis.
“The Lake Eyre Basin area of central Australia is a dusty place, especially in early spring. Dust storms originating in this region are common, although it is far less common that the dust is carried the 1,500 kilometres to Sydney and beyond,” he said.
“However, with winds of sufficient strength and the right direction dust may be carried off the Australian coast – even as far as New Zealand.”
From the same link, :
Climatologist Dr Samuel Marx of the University of Queensland says the fine particles in this dust storm were probably laid down during after the flooding rains that occurred in outback Queensland late last year.
“You often get these dust storm events after you’ve had wetter years,” he said.
“After you’ve had decent rains like we had last year, you get flood waves moving through central Australia. These deposit lots of fine material and once this dries out it easily gets entrained by the wind.”
Dr Marx, who has looked at Australian dust storms that have occurred over the last 10,000 years, says these events occur more often when there are greater oscillations between wet and dry periods.
He says future climate modelling by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests this may happen more often in the future.
“One of the predictions of the IPCC is that the Australian climate will be more variable and this should probably result in more dust storms,” Dr Marx said.
But he says the role of dust in climate modelling is still a large unknown.
“It changes the thermal structure of the atmosphere. Dust particles can absorb radiation and reflect radiation – it really depends on the characteristics of the dust and where it is being transferred,” he said.
Dr Marx says previous studies estimate the amount of dust in a storm of this size between 8 and 40 million tonnes, most of which will be deposited in the ocean, which could result in a explosion of phytoplankton.
“There has been quite a bit of work that has shown that these dust plumes are actually linked with phytoplankton blooms in the Southern Ocean. That’s a good thing in some ways,” he said.

Paul R
September 24, 2009 2:22 am

I think it would be a nice idea for all Australians to spend at least a few months well west of the Great Dividing Range, maybe even west of Bourke before they’re allowed to vote.
A dust storm might not be such a surprise to the initiated and be of less value to propagandists, it could also help break the city versus country polarization which gives Australia’s urbanites an unofficial gerrymander.

September 24, 2009 2:36 am

I recently returned from a long, meandering trip through much of the country immediately to the east of where the dust appears to have risen (Andamooka, Birdsville, Dig Tree, North Flinders Ranges, Yunta, Broken Hill). Soil was no different from the last three trips to the region — fine, talcum-like deposits that infiltrated every crack and crevice. It was so fine that the keyhole in the padlock on my trailer’s toolbox filled up with the bloody stuff and had to be blown out before I could insert the key. About a month ago at Arkaroola, the wind blew warm and hard for three consecutive days and you could tell — this is a subjective appraisal, admittedly — that just a couple more knots would have seen a vast mega-tonnage get airborne and head for the coast. I guess those stronger winds came after I left. As for agricultural degradation, there ain’t no agriculture out that way, just the odd sheep every 10 km or so. If you were looking for a cause, the closest speculation might get you would be the vast feral goat populations, which were thickest between Broken Hill and Mildura (where the loess was dumped, not lifted)
I’d like to take a few of these gullible young reporters out that country and, after overcoming the temptation to abandom them in a waterless waste, demonstrate why all their Chicken Little scenarios and post-religion dogmas about man’s sins and the inevitable retribution of the Great Green Goddess can’t survive an encounter with empirical evidence.

King of Cool
September 24, 2009 3:02 am

Yep, it sure has happened before. See:
And in that link take a look at “the great dust up of November 1902”.
But folks, the ABC tell us that from now on we can expect a lot more of em.
Better get your vote in quick for an emissions trading scheme.
Can’t find a synoptic chart for the day off hand. Worth looking at if some-one can find one. I recall it was a very complex low system in southern NSW, the remnants of which are now just west of New Zealand:

September 24, 2009 3:16 am

Tonight the 7.30 report actually covered the event extremely well. They didn’t even mention climate change.
Reporter Paul Lockyer had been at Lake Eyre 4 months ago and he returned today with a great cameraman. He showed how the wild flowers covered the place just as Motty suggested but he also showed how as the lake dries out, which it has, the plains left behind are made up of superfine soil that whirls into the air on even a slight breeze and as it heats up the air rises taking the dust with it.
They’ll have the story up by the morning. Great photography, well worth a watch.

September 24, 2009 3:18 am

August was a “hot” month in Australia, but only because there was a hot band across the middle, subtropical 1/3 of the big island. This is normal for winter.
Lake Eyre filled earlier this year; I though I read that it is filling again.
Still have central heating on in southern Oz because of repeat series of low pressure weather patterns across southern part of island, accompanied by higher than usual winds, which caused the dust storm. Rainfall returned to normal in September. This may be due to cold weather in Antarctic (?global cooling) – scientists at McMurdo Sound are having a tough time.
Sadly, our politicians will happily exploit this as evidence of climate change.
Our leader, Kevin cRudd is big noting himself in US as I write. The sooner copenhagen is over, the better for our sanity.

Peter West
September 24, 2009 3:24 am

To Mike Lorrey
No, Lake Eyre is not fed by any major or minor metropolitan area. Take a look on Google Maps or Earth. It’s below sea level, and is fed by a maze of channels, mainly from the NNW, coming down from the Gulf of Carpentaria. When there’s a big enough flood in the gulf country, the floodwaters come down through the channel country, and, if there’s enough volume, Lake Eyre fills up. Most of the time it’s a salt bed – think Bonneville.
It’s a bit event when the lake fills.

Peter West
September 24, 2009 3:34 am

Make that NNW a NNE.

Patrick Davis
September 24, 2009 3:48 am

You are not going to believe this, I am gobsmacked myself. An advert for tomorrow’s TodayTonight current affairs program here in Australia on channel 7…climate change is now responsible for…..wair for it….swallow that mouthful of coffee….fires in petrol stations, actually 1 every week. Apparently, it’ll get worse too. I will have to watch that tomorrow night and see if i can find a link on the channel 7 website.

Peter West
September 24, 2009 3:48 am

Here’s some footage of the dust at Broken Hill.

September 24, 2009 3:51 am

“That dust headed to sea has an unappreciated benefit – it will fertilize the ocean with its mineral rich dust. There may be some interesting blooms of sea life in the weeks to come.”
Let them report it as “climate catastrophe”. I don’t care because I can’t help but see that very cycle of life in those pictures, the wonders of nature at work!
Just not every day where I get that appreciative feeling! : )

Geoff Sherington
September 24, 2009 4:31 am

For years since the 70s I flew Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin every month or two. I have seen Lake Eyre full and empty a few times. We had mines at places like Tennant Creek (Google Earth) where sometimes the desert bloomed after heavy rain.
Heavy or widespread rain episodes can cause sheet flooding especially in the braided river systems that feed Lake Eyre through semi desert to the N-E, even rain that falls up to 1,000 km away from L. Eyre. After the shallow flooding, the water evaporates but the mud stays. Fine sediment covers the very top soil surface. This is a large contributor to dust storms. It does not last forever, so there is an optimum time for the wind to make big dust storms like the other day. It has very little to do with agriculture, if anything.
The lack of a linkage between global warming and a dust storm like this is shown by the continuation of the dust cloud to New Zealand. After moving about 1,500 km from L Eyre to the East Coast, it then went 2,000 km more to New Zealand over the Tasman Sea. So it is not required for there to be dust on the surface to keep the dust storm going. It can continue over the sea. I guess it would have continued over the sea whether the SST was 1 or 2 or 3 degrees higher than it was.
In 1983-4, 2 of us drove west from Kalgoorlie to Perth through an East-moving dust storm, some 550 km as the crow flies. In this case they flew backwards to keep the dust out of their eyes.
Don’t you agree that it was a wonderful inspiration to make an early ststement that Global Warming would cause an increase in extreme weather events? Every time something anomalous happens, this now gets trotted out, as if it has something to do with anything.
I’ve got to disappear now. There is a big solar panel installation that was in the path of the dust storm and the mirrors are bloody fithy. I’m not going to clean them, I’m going to watch how they clean them without water, possibly rationed because of drought. Welcome, Windex, the Greek man was right.

Tom in dust free Florida
September 24, 2009 4:53 am

What a wonderfully technological world we live in. I can view the latest news from down under simply by clicking on a link posted by our friends there. All while sitting comfortably in my den with a morning cup of coffee and wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I also get a quick history lesson about the possible causes. But alas, all this wonderful living is killing the planet so I suppose we should stop and go back to just hearing about ages old rumors, legends and myths.
FWIW, if we cannot control localized dust storms how the hell are we supposed to control global climate. Dumbasses!!!!

September 24, 2009 5:00 am

The BBC said “this is clear evidence of Global Warming”, but then added, “some scientists think it is natural variability”
Unusual caveat, for the BBC.
But they seem to forget that even the UK had a sandstorm way back in the 1970s, from the Sahara. It was not that thick by the time it reached the UK, but Spain and France got a real dusting.

September 24, 2009 5:06 am

>>> Most of it is actually aboriginal land.
Ahh. Must have been the Abbos gathering in the firewood for a cold winter. 😉
(An old joke about Global Warming predictions.)

September 24, 2009 5:52 am

For Rik, who asked about desalination plants:
Not many know (or, for those in government, care to remember) the long, sad, story of the desalination plant built on the Arizona-Mexico border, near Yuma, to address Colorado River treaty obligations. (yes, that is a VERY long story)
Suffice it to say that construction started in the 60’s, $400 million dollars was spent constructing it, and it took 20 years to build.
Then – it was operated for a 6 month test run in the early 90’s, there were environmental complaints about what was being done with the impure salt that it was producing, and the plant was then shut down. It has been padlocked and forgotten for 16 years now.
The contractors who built it made a fortune. The government agencies who authorized it got 20 years worth of paperwork to be busy with and employees to add while it was being built. Lawyers on all sides were able to build a career out of the 20 years of legal wrangling over it. A whole pile of scientists made their careers by being able to build and critique a gigantic lab experiment that they could play with to their heart’s content.
Everybody made a fortune off the gravy train.
Everyone, that is, except the taxpayers, who spent $400 million to build a facility that only operated for 6 months out of it’s (now) 40 year existence.
And quite obviously, none of the vaunted desalination ever actually happened. But who cares? That seems to have never been the point.
Were there any consequences to anyone for this failure? Nope, and that’s why you’ve probably never heard about this. Once it was shut down, it was rather conveniently airbrushed out of any official narratives. Desalination plant in Arizona? What’s that? We never heard of that.
Lesson to take home from this tale? This is the trajectory these big projects always follow. Don’t get sucked into believing that they’re ever going to do what they promise – that’s just the hook to get the suckers to bite. And the bigger the project, the bigger the scam.

September 24, 2009 6:09 am

Alan the Brit
Try today’s daily telepgraph…. this might have something to do with it!

September 24, 2009 6:31 am

During the Younger Dryas (lasting about 1000 yrs), the Cheasapeake Bay area in MD was covered w/3 feet of wind-blown dust from what must have been enormous duststorms. Greenland ice cores also show far greater dust deposits during the last glacial max (LGM). This was caused by the climate in a very cold phase.
So now dust storms are caused by warming. Who knew?

September 24, 2009 6:44 am

FWIW, storms of dust from the Gobi desert are a “feature” of Japan.

September 24, 2009 7:11 am

Politics aside, it was an astonishing natural event – a totally crimson dawn in the sky, followed by yellow. Another attribute was turning the house lights on and them glowing green in the mist. Has anybody got an explanation for that?

Ken S
September 24, 2009 7:14 am

wws (05:52:49) :
For Rik, who asked about desalination plants:
,,,,, “Then – it was operated for a 6 month test run in the early 90’s, there were environmental complaints about what was being done with the impure salt that it was producing,,,,,,,”
Here in El Paso we have an operational desalination plant which produces 27.5 million gallons of fresh water daily. Most if not all of the water is used for watering our lush green lawns and megatons of CO2 removing vegetation!
“El Paso is the site of the world’s largest inland desalination plant.”
This plant get around the “waste problem” by only removing most of the fresh water and the rest with a higher salt and mineral content is pumped back into the ground; waste problem solved.
The web site avoids describing the actual disposal process however the re-injection of of the concentrate back underground using injection wells was described early during it’s construction.
“Approximately 83% of the water is recovered while the remainder is output as a concentrate. At the conclusion of the reverse osmosis process, the permeate, or desalted water, is piped to a storage tank and the concentrate is routed to a disposal facility.”

Ken S
September 24, 2009 7:18 am

Correction, I see that that the web site does describe the re-injection of the concentrate back under ground.

John B
September 24, 2009 7:36 am

At the same time, the sea ice extent in the southern hemisphere has now exceeded “normal”:

September 24, 2009 8:11 am

Rik Gheysens (01:08:44) :
I had this reflection concerning countries with deserts. Why not desalinate seawater and bring the water to the dry areas? The energy can come from wind energy or from waste heat produced by industry.

The main reason is cost. You underestimate the required energy and overestimate wind and industry energy. If you want enough desalinated water for agriculture, start building nuclear power plants. Even then, fresh water is not enough to green many deserts. Where there is bare rock or 200 feet of sand, you’ll have to start at the edge and expand as the topsoil is built (whether by plants or by using more energy to move usable soil). Where there is no surface drainage you need enough water to desalinate the soil itself, and a way for the salty water to leave the surface.
And if you’re doing this just to turn a desert into a green wilderness, you need enough spare money to throw into the woods. If you’re doing it for agriculture, you’ll probably send your expensive water to an agricultural area rather than the desert… and the farmers by the desert will fight it as much as they can.
So if you know someone with a lot of money, they can build one nuclear plant and desalination plants that pumps one pipe full of fresh water into the desert. It’s going to take a very large pipe and a lot of time to green the desert.

September 24, 2009 8:35 am

Just on the BBC World news – Antarctica is losing more ice and thinning.
Stop press.
Looks like the southern hemisphere is doomed. Time to go back to the Mother country – we will even forget the crimes that got you sent there in the first place …. 😉

Brian Johnson uk
September 24, 2009 8:47 am

“Unusual caveat, for the BBC.
But they seem to forget that even the UK had a sandstorm way back in the 1970s, from the Sahara. It was not that thick by the time it reached the UK, but Spain and France got a real dusting.”
In 1966 my brand new E type Jag was covered in pink Sahara dust on 3 separate nights. All in the same week. That was in South Bucks UK
The BBC is going on about new satellite Arctic and Antarctic data showing rapid melting…………yawn.

September 24, 2009 8:49 am

Rik Gheysens (01:08:44) : “I had this reflection concerning countries with deserts. Why not desalinate seawater and bring the water to the dry areas? The energy can come from wind energy or from waste heat produced by industry. Solar energy is known to be not very efficient as source for the desalination process.”
Countless others have had the same idea for the past 50 years or so. First, wind energy is not much better than solar energy–no wind, no energy. Second, reverse osmosis is VERY energy intensive. Third, pumping water from the ocean to a desert also requires a lot of energy.
The El Paso project is based on using low salt content feedwater: “The brackish water contains more salt than is allowed in drinking water, but significantly less than ocean water.” Note also that the El Paso site doesn’t say where the power comes from.
Thus some desalination projects work (I believe Israel has several working installations); many don’t, even when the source and use are relatively close together. (e.g., Santa Barbara, California’s boondoggle). Desalination is a panacea only in the minds of econuts.

September 24, 2009 9:12 am

From the article:
That dust headed to sea has an unappreciated benefit – it will fertilize the ocean with its mineral rich dust. There may be some interesting blooms of sea life in the weeks to come.
And diseases for alga, corals, fish and marine mammals also. Viral particles, fungi spores, and bacteria, potentially harmful for marine living beings, are transported to oceans by these winds. We call them “Red Winds” or “Black Winds”, depending on the color of the soil substrate from which the dust is being dragged off.

Zeke the Sneak
September 24, 2009 9:58 am

inre: desalinization plants
At least the water rates in El Paso are cheap. That’s an argument for its efficiency.
Something to keep in mind. Not content to seize control through atmospheric co2 regulations, the internationalists will be making moves on our water!
You can check if your town or city has signed up for this intn’l “sustainability” project:

September 24, 2009 10:07 am

dust storm news in Australia from 1982…an article that could almost have been written today…

September 24, 2009 11:55 am

All I have to say is: wow! I’ve never even seen dust storms that big here in Texas! I wonder how long it will take for all of that red dust to settle into the ocean.

September 24, 2009 12:10 pm

Nasif Nahle (09:12:47) :
“Viral particles, fungi spores, and bacteria, potentially harmful for marine living beings, are transported to oceans by these winds”
I wouldn’t worry too much, for two reasons
1. This is perfectly normal, it has been going on for billions of years.
2. Not a lot of diseases affects both corals and kangaroos.

Douglas DC
September 24, 2009 12:15 pm

Paul R (02:22:06) :
I think it would be a nice idea for all Australians to spend at least a few months well west of the Great Dividing Range, maybe even west of Bourke before they’re allowed to vote.
A dust storm might not be such a surprise to the initiated and be of less value to propagandists, it could also help break the city versus country polarization which gives Australia’s urbanites an unofficial gerrymander.
Oregon,USA is exactly the same way Pard,er,Mate….
Except they need to spend time on the back of John Deere-east of the Cascades…

Henry chance
September 24, 2009 12:59 pm

According to ‘Out of the West: A historical perspective of the Western Division of New South Wales’ by Dick Condon (Published by Rangeland Management Action Plan, 2002) there were severe dust storms in 1902-03, 1937-39, 1983, 1993, but the worst were during the period from 1943-1945. Some of these storms were often continuous day-in-day-out for several days
Climate Progress is blowing this thread up rather large.
Game changer
Canary in the coal mine
The same worn out expressions. It seems the conditions are right for this from time to time and it has been going on long before cars were driving.
I enjoy Jennifer Marohasy

September 24, 2009 1:02 pm

Every winter storms coming from the Southwestern U.S. coat the ski resorts in Colorado with a fine layer of dust. This happens once or twice per winter. Of course the local media always blames it on human activities and climate change while never providing evidence how human activities or climate change are responsible. How has it become so insane that ANY natural event is blamed on humans and climate change? Storms NEVER coated snow in the Rockies before our evil industrial revolution – yeah right.

Dr A Burns
September 24, 2009 1:12 pm

Land clearing has effected 70% of Australia. I still recall Bob Hawke’s “1 million trees” headlines when he claimed he was going to replant Australia with 1 million trees … of course at that time 20 million trees annually were being ripped out in Queensland alone. Rabbits and other feral species have also had a devastating effect on vegetation.
Given that Sydney has never in history experienced such a dust storm, might not this have been a contributing factor ?

September 24, 2009 2:45 pm

Solar wind is at a very low level. It broke an all time record low last year. What’s up with that?

September 24, 2009 3:29 pm

Dr A Burns
that is not correct – the 1902 dust storm reached Sydney and the earstern coast
“The dust reached Sydney early the next day: northwest winds were lighter, and the dust took the form of a haze that thickened during the day (ships reported that it extended from south of Sydney to Newcastle). Dust clouds reached as far north as Inverell, before heading out to sea.”
and the dust storm of the summer of 44/45 also reached Sydney
“Brown-yellow dust-clouds soon reached Sydney, requiring lights to be turned on in the afternoon”
from the BOM.

Paul Vaughan
September 24, 2009 3:48 pm

Lake Eyre, Australia inflows 1885-2004:
It is interesting to see that this pattern relates to the NAM / AO & EOP (Northern Annular Mode / Arctic Oscillation & Earth orientation parameters).
Remember the 2007 Arctic Spike?
I’ve been looking into this and I have developed an index of sea ice area/extent dynamics that seems to reliably precede ENSO/SOI.

Paul Vaughan
September 24, 2009 3:55 pm

Lake Eyre, Australia inflows 1885-2004:
Can anyone – perhaps someone from Australia – point to a link to the data depicted?

Flying Binghi
September 24, 2009 4:01 pm

“…Given that Sydney has never in history experienced such a dust storm…”
Dust storms in old Sydney used to be so regular they gave them a name – the “Brickfielder”
Sundry extracts from pg 86, Southern Lights and Shadows, Frank Fowler, Sydney, Australia, 1859… (via Google books)
“…Generally, I did not admire the Australian climate – its sudden changes, occasionally of thirty or forty degrees (F) in two or three hours, its clouds of dust, its awful storms, and its hot winds…”
“…The ‘Southerly Buster’, as this change is called, generally comes…early in the evening. A cloud of dust – they call it, in Sydney, a ‘Brickfielder’ – thicker than any London fog, heralds its approach, and it moves like a compact wall across the country…”

September 24, 2009 4:02 pm

A Burns:
Bob Hawke called for a billion trees, not a million. Google it.
As for “unprecedented” dust storms, it certainly appears that there were a lot more in NSW in the 1940s, and earlier, than now. 100 years ago, there was talk of moving all families out of Broken Hill because dust storms were so frequent . A revegetation program brought the problem under control.

September 24, 2009 4:20 pm

Living in the middle of Western Australia dust storms are a regular event although not on this scale.
With all the minerals going into the seas , will the organisms that consume them consume or expel C02?

September 24, 2009 6:00 pm

OT but related.
Antarctic sea ice screaming above last year by about 3 million km2. Arctic on the rise also
High pressure systems over Australia breaking down with cold fronts extending through in recent weeks. Prediction by BOM for up to 70cm snow on mountains this weekend
SOI heading strongly up as low pressure systems become a pattern again over Darwin.

September 24, 2009 6:17 pm

wow thanks for the informative post, also interesting skimming the comments too 😀

September 24, 2009 6:20 pm

ooops that should be 1.5 million km 2

Pamela Gray
September 24, 2009 6:38 pm

Loess soil is very fertile soil blown in from somewhere else, especially in areas where glacial melt has ended and silt is exposed to wind. Nearly the entire Palouse area in the three corner states of the inland NW was created by blown in loess soil. That means that at some time before that, ice ages came and went, and moraines, drainage rivers and silt filled flood plains dried up and blew away. Waaaayyyyy before CO2 from cars became even an apple in anybody’s eye. This blowing soil is a very important component of the cycle of life. To give it a bad name, or say it is caused by a bad event, is the same thing as saying a newborn baby is a bad thing. Some people are so near sighted they can’t even see past their nose. I wonder what correction Al needs.

Keith Minto
September 24, 2009 6:44 pm

Initially, I could not determine the shape and direction of the dust, one image was 90 degrees out from another. Looking at it is clear that it is linked with the clockwise wind pattern (opposite to the Northern Hemisphere) of the strong low pressure system that moved across South Australia from the Gulf of Carpentaria. For this system to move so high into the Australian continent is unusual, thankfully these events are rare.
Peter West (03:48:57), that was an excellent video of the red sky turning black at Broken Hill, even the commentary by the mother to the daughter was moving.
Canberra had a pink/red sky and dust but no blackout.

Dr A Burns
September 24, 2009 6:58 pm

Thanks janama, braddles and Binghi … I should have remembered not to believe anything written in a newspaper.
I’ve found references to both 1 million and 1 billion trees … my recollection was the former in the smh. I wonder how many were ever actually planted ?

September 24, 2009 7:25 pm

suzannah (23:24:30) : ….. Actually Suze, lake Eyre evaporates very quickly. It is very shallow and has a large surface area….
Another thing. The inland rivers systems all run west carrying soil into the dry interior… not out to sea as is usual with most river systems and water sheds. Because of this, when that water has evaporated all that fine silt that has been carried inland is easily lifted by any strong winds…..
Also, just an aside to all that….. Those soils are very rich because they are not leached of minerals. The Diamantina area has very good grazing because of these soils….. But of course it is all rain dependent…. The grazing is only good after there has been good rains etc.

September 24, 2009 7:44 pm

Anyone care to donate their life’s income to cover the carbon credits needed for this storm? I didn’t think so. Hog wash.

Keith Minto
September 24, 2009 7:58 pm

Correction, I meant The Bite and not the Gulf of Carpentaria.
[REPLY – Bight? ~ Evan]

el gordo
September 24, 2009 8:11 pm

Well said, JH.

September 24, 2009 9:00 pm
Keith Minto
September 24, 2009 10:33 pm

Evan, thanks,it is Bight…

Patrick Davis
September 24, 2009 11:35 pm
Ben Williams
September 25, 2009 1:37 am

These Monster storms definitely are unprecedented

Geoff Sherington
September 25, 2009 4:31 am

Dr A Burns (13:12:00) :
You are probably wrong to state that “Land clearing has effected 70% of Australia.” Firstly, I think you mean “affected”. Then you do not say how the land was affected. Then you should do as I have had to do, fly for endless hours at Mach .75 or so, observing for hours at a time the lack of disturbance by man. North of the Tropic, roughly half of Australia, and West of the Great Divide, leaving a bit under half, the signs of land clearing are rare indeed. There is no timber industry because the termites eat the trees before harvest time. There is an occasional farming experiment like Ord River and Tipperary Downs, but these are tiny. So we have already accounted more more than 30% as unaffected, without even bothering about sub-tropical South Australia and Eastern West Australia beyond the wheat belt.
My guess is that 70% of Australia is UNAFFECTED by land clearing.

September 25, 2009 9:39 am

Study: Dust Storms Are Electric
Larry O’Hanlon, Discovery News

Dr A Burns
September 25, 2009 2:16 pm

There’s plenty of web links claiming 70% land clearing but I have no idea how they do their sums. There’s even this: “For the year of 1990, land clearing in Australia totalled more than half of that which was cleared in Brazilian Amazonia.”
What hasn’t been cleared by man directly for farming or grazing, has probably been effected by rabbits and other ferals introduced by man.
70% wouldn’t surprise me but even 30% is shameful, especially considering that much of what is left is land that is too poor for agriculture.
It’s also interesting looking at Lake Eyre on google Earth … it looks white with salt, rather than red.

September 25, 2009 4:21 pm

Flying Binghi
The harshness of the Aussie climate seems a surprise to those brought up on ‘Neighbours’ which appears to be most climate scientists as they appear to have absolutely no grasp of history, and think these sort of events are unprecedented.
This is the Australian year book listing natural disasters!OpenDocument
which includes a dust storm in Feb 1983 in Melbourne with a photo remarkably like that shown here.
Dorethea Mckellar wrote elequently of the harshness of the Australian climate in ‘My country.’

Dr A Burns
September 25, 2009 6:09 pm

‘Firstly, I think you mean “affected” ‘
I’m surprised to see such pedantry in a forum such as this but I did intend “effect”. Both effect and affect may be used as nouns or verbs. Here’s a short explanation, although I can copy from my Shorter Oxford if you wish:
“The noun effect means “result, consequence”: the serious effects of the oil spill. The noun affect1 pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, is a technical term in psychology and psychiatry.”

September 25, 2009 9:45 pm

Dr A Burns (18:09:39) : “…Both effect and affect may be used as nouns or verbs.”
Quite so, but the meaning of “effected” is different from “affected.” And I think you can expect pedantry wherever people with doctorates congregate.

Geoff Sherington
September 25, 2009 10:37 pm

When I was of Uni age it was not long after WWII and many families were poor. It was rare for a person to continue to a PhD. Most who did won scholarships. I won a couple, but only enough to get me to Master’s thesis stage.
I have a school report from when I was 8 years old, saying “Number in class, 58. Position in class, 1. Comment: Works well, but is inclined to wriggle”. How many pupils in a class become too many for the teachers of today? 20?
However, we managed to spell and to count and to use proper grammar better then later generations, expecially Generation X (whom I name Gen XXOS). Text message spelling remains alien to me.
The mentality of text message spelling is not dissimilar to the science of many climatologists, with their unstudied “near enough will do” attitude. I was belted several times because I did not take care to handwrite “w” well enough for the teacher.
Some of the people reporting above, about the dust storm in east Australia, are in need of a good belting. For some of those referenced, the scholarship and research is almost nil and the observation is often inaccurate. Experience? Who needs it when you can Google or go to Wikipedia (a site that I now boycott because of its mistake rate and overbearing censorship; and which perhaps should be “Wikipaedia” ).
It makes me weep to read of the degradation of Mitchell Taylor in Anthony’s post with Joanne Nova “Wandering the climate desert in exile.” In some countries people with experience are used for reference and it sometimes proves useful.
In my experience, 70% of the land area of Australia has NOT been affected by land clearing. The figure is much smaller. It’s dogma like “Radioactive waste has to be managed for 250,000 years”.
On Google Earth, an empty Lake Eyre does look whitish because that is the colour of the evaporite crystals like salt and gypsum. Very little iron is soluble by comparison and iron-coloured sediment layers, if they form, settle first after a lake filling and are covered by the later precipitation of the whitish salts as the water evaporates. .

Keith Minto
September 25, 2009 11:51 pm

Geoff Sherington (22:37:05),
You make some valid comments especially about using the web as a source of material. I was frustrated at the poor images in the media and asked my self ‘where did the dust come from and what shape, height, depth speed did it take?’. In the end it seems to be embedded in a cold front and as a result the shape depends upon which section of the dust ‘tube’ you are looking at. The media only selected a small section to publish. This is when I searched the Aqua high resolution images that provided images of almost the entire coiled front. These images were spectacular so I sent them off to my children, and, as an afterthought,to WUWT. The beauty of the web is the rapid speed that ideas can be transmitted, a weeks digestion of correct research to get every fact right would loose spontaneity,and,given the nature of the event, it would certainly be old news.
On a lighter note, I was wondering how New Zealand was coping with the dust and knowing the typical NZ/Australia rivalry, the NZ press did not disappoint. “Dirty dust from Australia heads to NZ”, and, wait for it ” Radio active dust from Woomera heads towards NZ”. They are lucky we do not charge them for it.
The Tabloids and old rivalries are alive and living.

gavin downunder
September 26, 2009 7:23 pm

This climate change is real enough for me
After giving up in a long battle with some diehards and less sensitive nature observers I decided to peek at blogsphere again for a fresh impression of the old bandwagon on this dust storm event given its as big as it is. Yes; the thing swept half a continent coast to coast and it’s still going on I fear.
Minutes ago I took more photos of the fresh red muck still accumulating on the lid of a spare washing machine stored temporarily down under in my carport. That’s after I completely wiped it all off two days ago when the rain turned it all back into a liquid like external house paint. However these suspended solids I find are so fine they could have first been made airborne by “normal” evaporation anywhere outback
What’s probably most different about the rapid evaporation of our formally long sheets of muddy water flowing inland is the intense air streams associated with a particularly deep low pressure region out in the Tasman sea and dare I say, we have seen quite a few of those in recent years. More importantly, some of us locals can see the same link with the early bushfire season this time round.
Those considerate souls interested in assessing the history of man’s impact on the local climate via the creation of mighty dust storms etc should look at the books about the soldier settler programs and the wholesale clearing of the Mallee country in Victoria.
Governments too are slow in their reaction to a problem of their creation.

Dr A Burns
September 26, 2009 8:27 pm

Jorgek, Geoff and any other affected grammatical pedants,
My initial statement was ” … feral species have also had a devastating effect on vegetation.”
This use of “effect” in this context is as a noun, not a verb. It means, to quote my Shorter Oxford:
” Something accomplished, caused or produced; a result, a consequence. …”
“… KOESTLER. Liquor did not seem to have a stimulating effect on him.”
My usage is clearly correct.
Forums on English usage would be a better place for such discussions.

Richard Heg
September 28, 2009 2:53 am

Oh no radioactive dust coming!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

September 28, 2009 7:28 am

I have been in 2 such ripper dustbaths. one in about? 64 in Alice springs, and one, where in a car, we could not see the end of the bonnet! OR the semi trailer we were directly behind doing idle crawl speed, only when he touched his brakes could we see a glimmer…where was that? Adelaide on the Bushfire day, (wed? 83?) can,t remember. It went from 40C, and fires in the hills to a dustbath, and then 2?hrs later a 15C drop almost instantly, followed by rain.
70% of the settled lands may have been cleared, the outback certainly has not been, if the feral goats camels and whatever, inc rabbits werent there, the Roos would be even more plentiful! and they can eat a massive amount, thanks very much…ask a farmer!
Lake Eyre was already dry as is normal, the ABC have a clip showing many of the pelicans that hatched, already dead from the fish and water dryout.
Inconvenient truth is it is normal and well documented!
I have had a gutful of climate change crap! come in Spinner!

Dr A Burns
September 28, 2009 2:33 pm

I’ve also “had a gutful of climate change crap!”
Do you have any evidence that ferals and introduced species such as sheep, do no more damage than Australian native animals ?

October 2, 2009 7:08 pm

“Do you have any evidence that ferals and introduced species such as sheep, do no more damage than Australian native animals ?”
Livestock is generally contained, if nothing else. Try to keep a kangaroo or emu contained – You need a fence strong & tall enough that it makes an elephant think twice (well, for the big red roos anyway). We’re also limited in the amount that can be “controlled” by a wildlife tagging system. A property might only be allowed to shoot 1-200 animals per year one year, but none the next (doesn’t help when the property might have 3500 kangaroos running wild on the property).
Livestock also don’t eat a lot of the natural flora this far out, hence the reliance on introduced pastures or forage crops.
Camels, rabbits and other introduced pests are a different kettle of fish. They still do a fair amount of destruction and eat anything, but they’re generally shot on sight, so their numbers are limited in all but the remotest areas.
Of course I have no scientific “evidence” on this; it’s all just an opinion. An opinion that’s based on the experience of living a lifetime in the Outback, which is sadly something that most meddling misfit environmental extremists & wildly enthusiastic journalists don’t have & can thus never understand.
On topic, last weekend saw another dust storm and the one I drove through last night turned out to be a fizzer.

Keith Minto
October 2, 2009 10:32 pm

As a tailpiece to this event, Dust Watch produced this interesting .pdf.,including a discussion of land management practices.
They found most of the dust came from Lake Eyre Basin, Channel country of South East Queensland and North West NSW.
It is at

October 6, 2009 5:59 am

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