COST long reads  
Understanding airborne dust
COST Action inDust
COST long reads  
Understanding airborne dust

Sand and dust Storms (SDS) usually occur when strong winds lift large amounts of sand and dust from bare, dry soils into the atmosphere, transporting them hundreds to thousands of kilometres away. They are a natural event linked with land and water management, as well as climate change.

Strong pressure gradients associated with cyclones or thunderstorms increase wind speeds over a wide area, which lift a large amount of sand and dust into the atmosphere and transport it, potentially for long distances. The main sources of mineral dusts are the arid regions of Northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia and China, however other regions such as North and South America, Australia and South Africa also add to the mineral dust in the atmosphere.

The importance of researching atmospheric dust

SDS play a significant role in different aspects of weather, climate and atmospheric chemistry and represent a serious hazard for life, health, property, environment, and economy.  Global estimates of dust emissions, vary between one and three Gigatons per year.

Mineral dust contains iron and phosphorus, which are nutrients for both continental and maritime ecosystems.

There are a number of problems associated with airborne dust, such as how it creates greenhouse effect conditions. It does this by absorbing and scattering solar radiation that is entering Earth’s atmosphere, which reduces how much reaches the earth’s surface, as well as stopping long-wave radiation from leaving. Dust particles also impact weather, acting as condensation nuclei for warm cloud formation and ice nuclei agents for cold cloud generation.  

Photo of a dust storm. Very bury image with a yellow/brown haze covering the sky with groups of people just recognizable in the background
A risk to humans?

Airborne dust poses a risk to people and human activity, such as danger to air transport and negative consequences for the agricultural sector.

About human health dust can cause skin and eye irritations, as well as more seriously; respiratory conditions such as pneumonia, and asthma. Very fine particles of dust may even penetrate the lower respiratory tract and enter the bloodstream.  Dust can also carry large amount of bacteria which favours the transmission of diseases.

An international network to encourage the use of monitoring and forecasting dust products

In November 2017, a new COST Action launched called ‘International Network to Encourage the Use of Monitoring and Forecasting Dust Products or inDust for short. The Action’s overall objective was to establish a network involving research institutions, service providers and potential end users of information on airborne dust that could assist the diverse socio-economic sectors affected by the presence of high concentrations of airborne mineral dust.

The Action also aimed to:

  • Identify and exploit dust forecast products
  • Coordinate current R&D activities and enhance the availability of appropriate products to help socio-economic sectors affected by the presence of airborne mineral dust
  • Build capacity through high-level teaching of end-users to promote the use of delivered products
  • Train technical staff to properly use the available observational and forecast products to design and implement preparedness and mitigation measures
  • Enhance cooperation with institutions from Northern Africa and the Middle East to work together on climate change science and mitigation/adaption strategies.

Researching airborne dust from across the world

The Barcelona Supercomputing Centre (BSC) was the Grant Holder of inDust and the Action, which was Chaired by BSC researcher, Dr Sara Basart.

The network – researcher focus:

Dr Sara Basart

inDust COST Action Chair

Dr Basart is an atmospheric composition researcher based at the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre (BSC). She is the lead scientist of the WMO Regional Center of the Sand and Dust Storm Warning Advisory and Assessment System (SDS-WAS) for Northern Africa, Middle East and Europe.

Because of her contributions to sand and dust storms forecasting and their impact assessment, she also participates in international projects for the provision of service such as Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service at the same time that she has participated as a scientist expert in different United Nations (UN) committees that focus on the assessment of sand and dust storms in socio-economic sectors.

“There is an increasing need for sand and dust storms accurate information and predictions to support early warning systems, and preparedness and mitigation plans. The minimal integration of sand and dust storm information and forecasts into practice and policy is a challenge for understanding, managing and mitigating its associated risks.”

Involvement spanned across the world

The Action gained global involvement, with researchers from 29 COST countries, 9 Near Neighbour Countries (NNCs) and 13 International Partner Countries (IPCs). More information on NNCs and IPCs can be found here

There were also 3 international organisations involved, WMO, WHO, and ECMWF:

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO)

The World Health Organisation (WHO)

The European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF)

Researcher focus:

Dr Pérez García-Pando 

inDust Management Committee Member

Dr Pérez García-Pando is an ICREA Research Professor who leads the Atmospheric Composition Group and holds an AXA Chair on Sand and Dust Storms at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC).  Since 2018 he is the PI of an ERC Consolidator Grant entitled ‘Frontiers in dust mineralogical composition and its effects upon climate’ (FRAGMENT) that combines theory, field measurements, laboratory analyses, remote spectroscopy and modelling to quantify the global mineralogical composition of dust and its effects upon climate.           

He is a Co-Investigator for NASA’s, Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT) that will mount an advanced imaging spectrometer to the exterior of the International Space Station in 2022 to determine the mineral composition of dust sources that produce dust aerosols. Measuring in detail which minerals make up the dust will help answer whether dust warms or cools the atmosphere.    

We are creating new knowledge, cutting-edge technology and capabilities to better understand and predict SDS, and manage their effects and impacts across multiple spatial and temporal scales for the benefit of society.


Over the four years that the Action ran, the network was phenomenally active holding events, training schools and even a children’s art competition.

One of the final outcomes for inDust was the creation of a pop-up book ‘The impacts of sand and dust storms’ (printed and interactive) and a related animated video presenting the impacts of sand and dust storms on transport and infrastructures, agriculture and energy, health and air quality, and the Earth System.

Watch below is the animated video ‘The impacts of sand and dust storms’:

The Action finished in 2021, with the final event being held online due to COVID.

Researcher focus:

Dr Alexander Baklanov Portrait photo of a man in a white shirt with a beard and glasses talking into a microphone

inDust Management Committee representative from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

Prof Alexander Baklanov is the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) focal point for the WMO Sand and Dust Storm Warning Advisory and Assessment System (SDS-WAS) and for the UN Coalition to Combat Sand and Dust Storms. He is a science officer of the Science and Innovation Department of WMO in Geneva, Switzerland, and affiliated as professor at the Niels Bohr Institute of the Copenhagen University, Denmark, as well as editor-in-chief of the Urban Climate journal.  

He is an atmospheric dynamics and pollution modelling scientist, in particular in developing a new generation of online coupled meteorology-chemistry models, which are important for the understanding of dust particles feedbacks on and interactions with meteorological processes. He led a number of international research projects, e.g., EuMetChem COST Action, supervised 12 PhD students, visiting/adjoint/honour professor in several European universities, a member of the Academy of Europe and the International Eurasian Academy of Sciences.  

The inDust COST Action greatly contributed not only to the WMO Regional Center of SDS-WAS for Northern Africa, Middle East and Europe, but also for the global SDS-WAS, as well as for the UN Coalition to Combat Sand and Dust Storms. The importance of inDust contributions was highlighted by the Secretary General of the United Nations in his report to the UN General Assembly.

Further information

Visit the inDust network web page

Visit the inDust Action page on our website


  • Banner videos – Videezy
  • Banner photo –  Loïc Alejandro, Pexels