The quantity of dust involved, about 500 million tonnes per year, is sufficient to affect the climate. By partly absorbing and partly reflecting sunlight, the dust particles heat the air but cool the ocean surface. They also encourage cloud formation, which reinforces the reflection of light back into space.
Such effects can be far-reaching: hurricanes in the Caribbean begin their life off
'Dust storms are sporadic events,' said Eric Achterberg. 'And Saharan dust can come from many sources – it can be mixed with soot, from grassland and forest fires; and it can change its chemical and physical properties as it is carried in the atmosphere, at different heights and different moisture conditions. These complications make it difficult to include the dust effects in climate models.'…
Photo of dust plume off the African coast by NASA, 1998, Wikimedia Commons