Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 13:20 EDT
Dust storm in Taklimakan Desert Western China
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Dust storm in Taklimakan Desert, Western China

September 13, 2010
Thick tan dust blanketed China's Taklimakan Desert in early September 2010. The dust was especially thick along the western perimeter of the desert. Toward the desert's eastern end, the dust thinned.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA's Aqua satellite captured this true-color image of the dust storm on September 5, 2010. Only a thin layer of dust travels over land outside of the eastern edge of the desert, indicating that the dust may be lying low over the arid land, rather than rising high in the atmosphere. Zooming in with the FSI Viewer shows black shadows on the dust from clouds above the storm, confirming that the storm lies low, under the cloud layer.

The Taklimakan is the largest, driest and highest desert in China, filling the Tarim Basin between the Tien Shan (Celestial) Mountains to the north and Kunlun Mountains to the south. It is located further from the ocean than almost any other place on Earth, and is cut off from the Asian monsoons and Arctic storms by the encircling mountains. The Tarim River flows across the basin from west to east, creating the Tarim Basin Deciduous Forest ecosystem. The desert also gains sporadic moisture from mountain snowmelt. Precipitation is less than 10 mm per year.

The Taklimakan is the largest shifting-sand desert in the world. Eighty-five percent of the surface consists of crescent-shaped dunes, some reaching a height of 200 meters (650 feet).