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Dust storms are increasing globally with far-reaching consequences for the environment and human health, scientists are warning.
Up to three billion tonnes of dust is blown around the world annually, says Andrew Goudie at the University of Oxford, UK. Dust storms originating in Saharan Africa have increased ten-fold over the past 50 years, threatening human health and coral reefs thousands of miles away, and contributing to climate change, he warns.
The problem is far worse than previously believed, he says after studying 50-years-worth of global satellite imagery.
A major cause, he says, is the increasing use of four-wheel drive vehicles to replace camels to cross the deserts. “Toyota-isation” – a term Goudie coined to describe the constant desert journeys made by Toyota Land Cruisers – is scarring the desert’s protective surface layer, releasing dust into passing winds. “If I had my way, I would ban them from driving off-road,” he said.
“The desert surfaces have been stable for thousands of years because they usually have a thin layer of lichen or algae, or gravel from which the fine sand has blown away. Once these surfaces are breached you get down to the fine sand again, which can be picked up by the wind,” Goudie explains.