The NSF grant will fund a three-year project to create a comprehensive database for dust storms and dust events.
Karin Ardon-Dryer, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences, has received a $480,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will augment research into helping society better understand the causes and impacts of dust storms.
Ardon-Dryer, an atmospheric scientist who has been part of the faculty in Texas Tech's College of Arts and Sciences for six years, received the grant to investigate dust events across the nation during the past 20 years and build out an accessible, centralized database for researchers and communities alike.
“We will look across the U.S. at where and when these dust events occurred as far as month, year, hour of the day and location,” she said. “We are also going to look at what meteorological conditions caused them.”
When the project wraps up in three years, the expectation is the research will create a database that both the scientific community and the community at large can access for information.
“The goal is that everyone who is interested will be able to get to this data,” she said. “It could be for health or community purposes, or for cloud physics research and climate models. It will allow everyone who cares and has interest to have access.”
Scientists consider all dust events to be dust storms, but there are different intensity levels to dust events, Ardon-Dryer said. What makes this grant unique is it will be the first to observe levels of dust events and dust storms.
She said dust storms have a greater impact on visibility than dust events, which means more dust particles in the air and adverse effects on respiratory health compared to dust events.
“The grant has so many components to it,” she said. “We will be trying to identify dust mainly through meteorological conditions as we have thousands of sensors across the U.S. We'll use them as a baseline to identify that there was a reduction in visibility and an increase in windspeed and will use additional confirmation mechanisms such as satellite images, changes or particle concentration, social media and others.”
Ardon-Dryer's primary research has been in aerosols and dust, which was one of the reasons she came to Texas Tech.
“Coming to Lubbock, I knew I wanted to work on dust,” she said. “This is the best place to do it, and here most of the work I do is related to dust as far as trying to understand the meteorology of dust events, how they form, when and why they form. All these things could have a big impact on society if we understand the reasons and causes better.”
Officially, the project began Jan. 1, although Ardon-Dryer said work was already underway.
Originally, the idea struck Ardon-Dryer several years ago while assessing existing dust storm data. Although there was a good deal of information available, she thought it was incomplete and seemed to be missing a lot of dust events.
“I realized we didn't have a complete dust database, and the data we were using was not ideal,” she said.
Eventually, the work done as a result of this grant is expected to be housed on the website of the Dust Alliance for North America.
“The story about this grant is mainly about being persistent,” she said. “I kept hearing from people in the community we need this dust database, and that made me not give up and submit this grant proposal multiple times even when it was rejected.”