Part of the Sahara A to Z series
Considering its influence on global weather patterns, very little data exists about the climate of the Sahara.
Dust plumes from summertime sand storms can reach right across the Atlantic to the Americas, having a bearing on the formation of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico as well as a beneficial effect on the ecology of the Caribbean and Amazon basin. In western Europe we’re familiar with occasional reports of ‘Sahara dust rain’ settling on smooth surfaces like car bodies. In March 2014 the Daily Mail reported on the outrage of Saharan dust settling on then Prime Minister Cameron’s car in Downing Street (right).
In 2011 and 2012 Project Fennec set out to expand the knowledge of this area by gathering climatic and aerosol data across the arid ‘Empty Quarter’ of the western Sahara. Covering northern Mauritania, northern Mali and western Algeria, it’s known to meteorologists as the ‘Saharan Heat Low’ (SHL) and is the world’s largest source of airborne dust. Manned weather stations were established in Zouerat, Mauritania and Bordj Moktar (‘BBM’) on the Algeria-Mali border (see map above left), while automated weather stations (AWS, above right) were planted across the 1000 miles between the two bases, in the remote Erg Chech region.
In 2006 we traversed the southern edge of this ‘Empty Quarter‘ between Ouadane and BBM, crossing only the infrequently travelled Timbuktu-Taoudenni piste in some 2000 km of off-piste driving. On the way we collected dust samples for what became Fennec.
Following its 2005 Bodele dust-research expedition to Chad (BodeX), in 2012 the Fennec ground observations were backed up by a series of flights at high and low altitude across the region using aircraft crammed with recording instruments (above right).
Below is a short film about the Fennec project. It’s not click and play; it has to download itself.