Saharan dust off western Europe
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Saharan dust off western Europe

April 17, 2011
A very large cloud of beige dust floated over the Atlantic Ocean off the shores of western Europe on April 7, 2011. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA's Terra Satellite captured this true-color image the same day, at 12:00 UTC.

The dust originated from the Sahara desert in North Africa, stirred by strong winds associated with a low pressure system on April 4, three days before this image was captured. The dust was channeled west and north, resulting in a plume off of Portugal on April 6.

By the time this image was captured, the light tan haze can be seen stretching from Morocco (lower right corner) to the United Kingdom (upper right corner) and approaches Ireland (upper center of the image). A cloud of dust covers Portugal and Spain, as well as France. A bright, jewel-toned phytoplankton bloom off of the coast of France, in the Bay of Biscay, is dulled to a faint multi-colored swirl as it is viewed through the veil of dust.

Over the ocean, the dust appears to mingle with clouds. Airborne dust is a natural seed for cloud formation, and both the particulate dust and the clouds they generate can reflect energy from the Sun back into space, effectively shading Earth's surface and cooling its temperature. In this case, it is not possible from this image to tell if these clouds were directly generated by the Saharan dust. The patterns of the dust, mirrored by the patterns of the clouds, do reveal prevailing wind patterns in the region.

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