Dust variability in the climate system has been studied for several decades, yet there remains an incomplete understanding of the dynamical mechanisms controlling interannual and decadal variations in dust transport. The sparseness of multi-year observational datasets has limited our understanding of the relationship between climate variations and atmospheric dust. We use available in situ and satellite observations of dust and a century-length fully coupled Community Earth System Model (CESM) simulation to show that the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) exerts a control on North African dust transport during boreal summer. In CESM, this relationship is stronger over the dusty tropical North Atlantic than near Barbados, one of the few sites having a multi-decadal observed record. During strong La Niña summers in CESM, a statistically significant increase in lower tropospheric easterly wind is associated with an increase in North African dust transport over the Atlantic. Barbados dust and Pacific SST variability are only weakly correlated in both observations and CESM, suggesting that other processes are controlling the cross-basin variability of dust. We also use our CESM simulation to show that the relationship between downstream North African dust transport and ENSO fluctuates on multidecadal timescales and is associated with a phase shift in the North Atlantic Oscillation. Our findings indicate that existing observations of dust over the tropical North Atlantic are not extensive enough to completely describe the variability of dust and dust transport, and demonstrate the importance of global models to supplement and interpret observational records.
- Decadal variability