5 Things to Know About NASA’s New Mineral Dust Detector


Dust swirls over the Arabian Peninsula
Dust swirls over the Arabian Peninsula in this image captured by the Suomi NPP satellite in July 2018. NASA’s upcoming Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT) will help scientists better understand the role of airborne dust in heating and cooling the atmosphere.
Credits: NASA Earth Observatory

Called EMIT, the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation will analyze dust carried through the atmosphere from dry regions to see what effects it has on the planet.

Each year, strong winds carry more than a billion metric tons – or the weight of 10,000 aircraft carriers – of mineral dust from Earth’s deserts and other dry regions through the atmosphere. While scientists know that the dust affects the environment and climate, they don’t have enough data to determine, in detail, what those effects are or may be in the future – at least not yet. 

Launching to the International Space Station on June 9, NASA’s Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT) instrument will help fill in those knowledge gaps. EMIT’s state-of-the-art imaging spectrometer, developed by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, will collect more than a billion dust-source-composition measurements around the globe over the course of a year – and in doing so, significantly advance scientists’ understanding of dust’s influence across the Earth system.

Here are five things to know about EMIT:

  1. It will identify the composition of mineral dust from Earth’s arid regions.

Desert regions produce most of the mineral dust that makes its way into the atmosphere. They’re also largely remote, making it difficult for scientists to collect soil and dust samples over these vast areas by hand.

From its perch on the space station, EMIT will map the world’s mineral dust source regions. The imaging spectrometer will also provide information on the color and composition of dust sources globally for the first time. This data will help scientists understand which kinds of dust dominate each region and advance their understanding of dust’s impact on climate and the Earth system today and in the future.

Using image spectrometer technology developed at JPL, EMIT will map the surface composition of minerals in Earth’s dust-producing regions, helping climate scientists better understand the impact of airborne dust particles in heating and cooling Earth’s atmosphere. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

2. It will clarify whether mineral dust heats or cools the planet.

Right now, scientists don’t know whether mineral dust has a cumulative heating or cooling effect on the planet. That’s because dust particles in the atmosphere have different properties. For instance, some particles may be dark red, while others may be white.

The color matters because it determines whether the dust will absorb the Sun’s energy, as dark-colored minerals do, or reflect it, as light-colored minerals do. If more of the dust absorbs the Sun’s energy than reflects it, it’ll warm the planet, and vice versa.

EMIT will provide a detailed picture of how much dust comes from dark versus light minerals. That information will allow scientists to determine whether dust heats or cools the planet overall, as well as regionally and locally.

  1. It will help scientists understand how dust affects different Earth processes.
Officials from NASA and JPL oversee vibration testing of the EMIT science instrument
Officials from NASA and JPL oversee vibration testing of the EMIT science instrument, including its telescope and imaging spectrometer.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mineral dust particles vary in color because they’re made of different substances. Dark red mineral dust gets its color from iron, for example. The composition of dust particles affects how they interact with many of Earth’s natural processes.

For instance, mineral dust plays a role in cloud formation and atmospheric chemistry. When mineral dust is deposited in the ocean or forests, it can provide nutrients for growth, acting like fertilizer. When it falls on snow or ice, the dust accelerates melting, leading to more water runoff. And for humans, mineral dust can be a health hazard when inhaled.

EMIT will collect information on 10 important dust varieties, including those that contain iron oxides, clays, and carbonates. With this data, scientists will be able to assess precisely what effects mineral dust has on different ecosystems and processes.

2. Its data will improve the accuracy of climate models.

In the absence of more specific data, scientists currently characterize mineral dust in climate models as yellow – a general average of dark and light. Because of this, the effects that mineral dust may have on climate – and that climate may have on mineral dust – are not well represented in computer models.

Color and composition information gathered by EMIT will change that. When the instrument’s data is incorporated, the accuracy of climate models is expected to improve.

3. It will help scientists predict how future climate scenarios will affect the type and amount of dust in our atmosphere.

As global temperatures rise, arid regions may become even dryer, possibly resulting in larger (and dustier) deserts. To what extent this might happen depends on several factors, including how much temperatures rise, how land use changes, and how rainfall trends change.

By incorporating EMIT’s global dust source composition data into models and predictions, scientists will gain a better understanding of how the amount and composition of dust in arid regions may change under different climate and land-use scenarios. They’ll also gain a better understanding of how these changes may impact climate in the future.

More About the Mission

EMIT is being developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed for the agency by Caltech in Pasadena, California. It will launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s 25th commercial resupply services mission for NASA. Once EMIT begins operation, its data will be delivered to the NASA Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC) for use by other researchers and the public.

To learn more about the mission, visit:


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June 2, 2022 2:06 am

“2. Its data will improve the accuracy of climate models.” But we have been told they are really accurate. /sarc

Peta of Newark
June 2, 2022 3:07 am

How long before it gets buried like the data from OCO2 Sputnik was buried.

First, and going from very ancient memory I really really do dispute their #Billion Tonnes’ number
Because as I understood from way back when, The Amazon Forest was/is ‘fertilised’ by dust originating the Sahara. (Is there an especial mountain pass/gully that picks it up?)

But and seemingly 40 Million tonnes of Sahara dust rains down on the Amazon every year.

Er, its a long way from Sahara to Amazon – how much falls into the ocean en route?
Can anyone envisage that trans-oceanic transport being what: 10%, 5% or even just 1% efficient?

Of course dust affects what is (imagined to be) climate
viz: Temperature
Dust will have very low Albedo whether it is down on the ground or up in the sky.
While up in the sky it will absorb incoming solar, warm itself and obviously share that warmth with the atmospheric gas molecules.
Bang on schedule, along comes Spencer’s Sputnik to record that temperature rise
Meanwhile down on the ground, less solar energy makes it and so close to the ground, observed temps will be seen to reduce.

I could and often do go on forever, so I’ll leave with ‘some of my own work’
(Eat your heart out Hockney)
A pic from one of my exploring trips, somewhere between Newark and Cambridge in the UK
A not untypical UK springtime sceneby any means.

Who is going to venture how much, many tonnes. that tractor/drill combo is raising in just one single day’s work

You do understand now why the data from NASA’s new Sputnik is going to get buried – because that tractor and millions more like it will be discovered to be the source of atmospheric warming
But worse, much worse, what that tractor (planting cereals and not growing cows/sheep/pigs) is doing is supposed to The Remedy to Climate Change

btw and going on from my preamble about the Sahara/Amazon, you do see Global Greening in action don’t you?

UK Tractor Dust Spring 2022.JPG
Alan Robertson
Reply to  Peta of Newark
June 2, 2022 10:41 am

The huge clouds of plowed dust raised on the US central plains, often rival the enormous clouds of smoke from prairie fires.
A farmer friend said that every time he “busts the crust”, he’s losing soil. So he is.
The arable plains of Kansas were notable for topsoil depths of 16 feet, when first turned to plow.
Those days are gone, just like the soil. Not to pick on the Jayhawks; it’s that way, everywhere.
The coming years will see evolved methods of food production. We won’t have any choice.

Ron Long
June 2, 2022 3:36 am

While it is good to have more exact data relevant to the earth processes, stating that dark (absorbing solar energy) versus light (reflecting solar energy) dust has an atmospheric effect is partially correct. The feedbacks and forcings need to be analyzed in an integrated study, for instance, NASA states that dust particles affect cloud formation, so what does this do to atmospheric temperature?

Reply to  Ron Long
June 2, 2022 5:17 am

Cloud formation reflects sun’s light in the outer space and then cools the planet.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Jack
June 2, 2022 10:19 am

On the hemisphere where the sun is shining — opposite on the other side.

June 2, 2022 3:39 am

Yet another article on aerosols (in the form of dust) in the atmosphere.
Keep them coming…_

June 2, 2022 4:35 am

“clarify whether mineral dust heats or cools the planet.

Right now, scientists don’t know…”

And yet the BBC decided unequivocally in 2006 that the science was settled – h/t Roger Harrabin.

A heads up to UK readers. Justin Rowlatt will be broadcasting his own [doom-laden] brand of climate propaganda on Radio 4 each day next week at 13:45 – after the world at one.

Justin knows.

Reply to  fretslider
June 2, 2022 9:11 am

“scientists don’t know… the science was settled”

That is a possible interpretation

Reply to  fretslider
June 2, 2022 11:14 am

“If more of the dust absorbs the Sun’s energy than reflects it, it’ll warm the planet, and vice versa.” this is pure junk. If the dust is high in the atmosphere most of the heat will be lost to space. If the dust is high enough most of the reflected energy will be lost to space. The question how high does the dust get and how long does it stay there. Since the horizon drops off after six feet. that means the dust need not have to be that high to loose over half of it energy to space. the higher you go more the loss. My math skill are no good enough to tell you how much of course the other problem is how much is also caught by other dust. All I know the question is is far more complex than “If more of the dust absorbs the Sun’s energy than reflects it, it’ll warm the planet, and vice versa.” We live in a world of educated idiots.

Frank from NoVA
June 2, 2022 4:42 am

‘Each year, strong winds carry more than a billion metric tons – or the weight of 10,000 aircraft carriers – of mineral dust from Earth’s deserts and other dry regions through the atmosphere.’

This makes my day. For years I’ve been looking to compile a system of units specific to the junk science of climate alarmism. In addition to the ‘Hiroshima’ (energy) and the ‘Manhattan’ (area), I can now add the ‘Aircraft Carrier’ (mass).

alastair gray
Reply to  Frank from NoVA
June 2, 2022 4:54 am

“how about enough to heat a million homes” meaning enough to heat about 250,000 homes when capacity factor is taken into account

Frank from NoVA
Reply to  alastair gray
June 2, 2022 6:49 am

Yes, ‘Homes’, as a measure of energy, is another good example. Now, if we only had a conversion table that would inform us of how many ‘Homes’ are in one ‘Hiroshima’…

Mike M
Reply to  Frank from NoVA
June 2, 2022 9:16 am

Olympic swimming pools for volume.

Reply to  Frank from NoVA
June 2, 2022 10:36 am

Frank, don’t forget “Great Pyramids” and “Olympic-sized Swimming Pools”. Then there are “Wales” and “Empire State Buildings”.

So far, I haven’t run across a Standard Unit for cow farts.

Old Man Winter
Reply to  H.R.
June 2, 2022 2:07 pm

Zeppelins! 😮

Reply to  Old Man Winter
June 2, 2022 8:08 pm


Be alarmed! “Cattle ranches in the U.S. release over 4.5 million Zeppelins of methane annually from cow farts.”

June 2, 2022 4:47 am

It will help scientists predict how future climate scenarios will affect the type and amount of dust in our atmosphere.”

It has a crystal ball? The climate (or climates) is (are) known to be chaotic, and therefore inherently unpredictable in the longer time span. There is nothing wonderful about “scientists”. They are still subject to the laws of physics.

Captain climate
June 2, 2022 9:44 am

I find it amazing that they’re more interested in whether the stuff reflects or absorbs solar radiation instead of whether they serve as cloud condensing nuclei. Clouds are enormously more powerful than whatever albedo you’ll get from the dust alone.

Alan Robertson
Reply to  Captain climate
June 2, 2022 10:25 am

Can EMIT detect radioactive dust particles?
That might soon come in handy, as the world’s puppeteers keep yanking everyone’s strings.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Alan Robertson
June 2, 2022 6:48 pm


Alan Robertson
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
June 3, 2022 12:19 am

What, me worry?

Clyde Spencer
June 2, 2022 10:43 am

The color matters because it determines whether the dust will absorb the Sun’s energy, as dark-colored minerals do, or reflect it, as light-colored minerals do.

It isn’t really that simple. All minerals reflect and absorb simultaneously. What is important is the ratio. Anyone who has taken a beginning class on mineralogy knows that the streak of a mineral on an unglazed porcelain plate is often very different from the color of the bulk mineral. Dark silicates can produce a white streak, or white powder when ground very fine.

This is certainly a step in the right direction, instead of just assuming that dust is “yellow.” However, to properly characterize the components of the dust cloud, they really need to determine the complex refractive index of the particles. The extinction coefficient (k) is particularly critical when it is not negligible. In theory, this can be obtained by inverting the reflectance spectrum. However, this approach does not have a good track record, as evidenced by the various databases of the complex RI with absurd values for n and k. (If only the science were “settled!”)

Where things may get a little sticky is deserts that have developed ‘desert varnish’ on the rocks and sand grains, therefore not properly characterizing the actual dust clouds by over representing manganese and iron oxides. Silicates have negligible extinction coefficients, so they may be able to model them adequately. However, the thing is, dark, iron-rich silicates also have negligible extinction coefficients, causing the megascopic particles on the ground to absorb more heat than quartz or feldspar, but that will be become less important with silt and clay-sized particles in the dust cloud.

Robert Green has been responsible for the Airborne Visible-InfraRed Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) for decades, and has been a major advocate of imaging spectrometry. However, I’m not sure that the team has thought this through thoroughly, properly comparing the potential contributions of imaging polarimetry.

It will be interesting to see what they are capable of extracting from the dust cloud spectral data.

Alexy Scherbakoff
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
June 2, 2022 6:22 pm

They are imaging dust creation areas but not the dust. There will be an assumption that the dust will have the characteristics of the area examined.

June 2, 2022 10:44 am

Trenberth already knows all the flux density partitioning to within the nearest 0.1 W m-2. The science is settled ✔

Andy Pattullo
June 2, 2022 11:43 am

This will be fascinating. This is real science and will have real actionable outcomes. Too bad they feel obliged to drag some of the work into the realm of the shady unscientific climate models. It’s like getting fecal material on a really beautiful new shoe.

Christopher Paino
June 2, 2022 12:16 pm

They don’t seem to know how acronyms usually work.

michael hart
June 2, 2022 3:10 pm

Hmm… “5 things”.
But they are numbered 1,2,1,2,3.
A bit of editing needed?

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