Project highlights

  • Using a wide-range of satellite data including reflectance as well as specialist geoscience products, and integrating ground-based observations of mineral aerosol
  • Comparison of spatial and temporal dynamics of dust sources across eight key regions (Alaska, Canada, Eurasia, Greenland, Iceland, Antarctica, New Zealand, Patagonia)
  • Major remote sensing-led global survey of mineral dust dynamics in the high latitudes, where climate change effects are especially profound


Most dust in the Earth system originates in the low-latitude dust belt, however recent studies suggest >5% of global dust emissions comes from sources in the high latitudes (≥50°N and ≥40°S) – a contribution more than from Australia or southern Africa.  A substantial proportion of this dust remains within the high latitudes and is deposited in the sensitive marine, terrestrial and cryospheric environments of the Arctic and Antarctic; it may also affect air quality and human health.  Until very recently sources of high-latitude dust have largely been considered in isolation and limited to specific regional areas such as Iceland (Figure 1) and Patagonia.

Dust sources in the low to middle latitudes have been well-mapped and well-studied, but less information is available from dust observations poleward of these limits.  There are many reasons for this including remoteness, very low temperatures, snow and ice cover and lack of daylight during winter months, all of which hamper year-round field investigations.  At lower latitudes some of these difficulties have been overcome through the use of satellite remote sensing data but this is more challenging for the polar regions due to high cloud cover and seasonal light limitation.  This means that to date, no attempt has been made to systematically quantify the magnitude, frequency, intensity or timing of high latitude dust emissions. This in turn limits our ability to understand the impact of high latitude dust both within Polar regions and at the global scale.

A potential solution to the challenges of remote sensing at high latitudes is to adopt a multi-scale approach using a wide range of satellite sensors and data products alongside existing secondary ground-surface measurements.  The aim of this studentship is to provide the first multi-scale, systematic, remote sensing-led quantification of high latitude dust sources, dynamics and transport pathways, providing an essential dataset for validating future global dust modelling outputs.


Loughborough University


  • Dynamic Earth


Project investigator


How to apply


Different satellites offer a range of spatial and temporal resolutions which can be manipulated to discern much information about high latitude dust. The student will use both satellite reflectance and aerosol data products to identify and map the distribution and pathways of high latitude dust events.  A particularly novel approach of this project will be to use aerosol products at a coarse spatial (1×1°) and temporal (8-day) scale to facilitate enquiries into seasonality of high latitude dust emissions, but also to use novel high-resolution data from CubseSats such as PlanetScope. This will be applied to the eight high latitude dust regions of the world.  The availability of MODIS data from 2000 onwards will provide >15 years of data increasing the confidence in seasonal and spatial patterns as well as allowing quantification of inter-annual variability.  Satellite retrievals will be cross-referenced to multiple independent  secondary ground-based measurements including meteorological data, aerosol databases and AERONET.

Training and skills

The student will be trained in the high-level use of satellite remote sensing data and GIS for environmental monitoring applications, specifically the identification of sources of dust emissions, quantification of atmospheric aerosol loading and dust transport pathways. They will be supported to develop expertise in quality control of satellite data and the wider use of diverse secondary data sources (e.g. meteorological and climate reanalysis data).  The student will receive training in the use of industry-standard remote sensing software and geospatial data analysis platforms and techniques.

Partners and collaboration

The external partner for this project is Dr. Santiago Gassó at NASA who has worked extensively on developing remote sensing approaches to mapping and tracking dust pathways, with a focus on Patagonia and Alaska. The student will have the opportunity to work with Dr. Gassó in the USA.

Further details

For further information about this project, please contact Dr Matthew Baddock ([email protected]) or Prof Jo Bullard ([email protected]). For general information about CENTA and the application process, please visit the CENTA website: For further enquiries about the application process, please contact the School of Social Sciences & Humanities ([email protected]). Please quote LU1_CENTA when completing the application form:

Possible timeline

Year 1

Student will obtain and employ methods for rapid analysis of MODIS imagery for the 8 main high latitude dust source regions including utilisation of true colour composite images and MODIS Aerosol Optical Depth products for the full MODIS record (2000-date).

Year 2

For selected dust events, high resolution MODIS and other satellite data (Landsat, Sentinel, Planet) will be cross-referenced to evaluate the accuracy and precision of coarse scale analysis.  Remote-sensing data for all regions will be validated by cross-referencing against multiple independent secondary ground-based measurements including meteorological data, aerosol databases (e.g. EBAS database; NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory database) and AERONET.

Year 3

Results will be used to construct inventories of high latitude dust sources, to quantify seasonality of dust emissions and compare this across regions, and to validate existing modelling.

Further reading

Baddock M.C., Ginoux, P., Bullard J.E. and Gill T.E. (2016) Do MODIS-defined dust sources have a geomorphological signature? Geophysical Research Letters, 43: 2606-2613.

Baddock M.C., Bryant R.G., Dominguez Acosta M. and Gill T.E. (2021) Understanding dust sources through remote sensing: Making a case for CubeSats. Journal of Arid Environments, 184: 104335.

Bullard, J.E. and 13 others (2016) High-latitude dust in the Earth system.  Reviews of Geophysics, 54, 447-485.

Gassó, S., and A. F. Stein (2007) Does dust from Patagonia reach the sub-Antarctic Atlantic Ocean? Geophysical Research Letters, 34, L01801.

Gassó, S., A. Stein, F. Marino, E. Castellano, R. Udisti, and J. Ceratto (2010) A combined observational and modeling approach to study modern dust transport from the Patagonia desert to East Antarctica. Atmospheric  Chemistry and Physics, 10, 8287–8303.

 NASA Earth Observatory (2018) ‘Glacial Flour in Greenland Skies’ Available at: (Accessed: 1 Nov 2018).



In its core form, this is a desk-based remote sensing project, with no essential field data gathering requirements, thus the proposed research is strong in the face of COVID-19 restrictions. Remote access to software and data processing is manageable if UK national lockdowns occur in the future.