LUBBOCK, Texas – A Texas Tech University assistant professor recently received a $480,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to better understand the causes and impact of dust storms.

Karin Ardon-Dryer
(Photo provided in a press release from TTU)

Karin Ardon-Dryer is an atmospheric scientist who has been part of the faculty in Texas Tech’s College of Arts and Sciences for six years.

According to a press release from TTU and the Texas Tech Today website, she received the grant to investigate dust events across the nation during the past 20 years and build out an accessible, centralized database for researchers and communities alike.

Texas Tech said when the project wraps up in three years, the expectation is the research will create a database that both the scientific community and the community at large can access for information.

Officially, the project began on January 1, although Ardon-Dryer said work was already underway. 

“Coming to Lubbock, I knew I wanted to work on dust,” Ardo-Dryer said. “This is the best place to do it, and here most of the work I do is related to dust as far as trying to understand the meteorology of dust events, how they form, when and why they form. All these things could have a big impact on society if we understand the reasons and causes better.”

She said dust storms have a greater impact on visibility than dust events, which means more dust particles in the air and adverse effects on respiratory health compared to dust events.

What makes this grant unique is it will be the first to observe levels of dust events and dust storms.

“The grant has so many components to it,” Ardo-Dryer said. “We will be trying to identify dust mainly through meteorological conditions as we have thousands of sensors across the U.S. We’ll use them as a baseline to identify that there was a reduction in visibility and an increase in windspeed and will use additional confirmation mechanisms such as satellite images, changes or particle concentration, social media and others.”

Scientists consider all dust events to be dust storms, but there are different intensity levels to dust events, she said.  

“I realized we didn’t have a complete dust database, and the data we were using was not ideal,” said Ardo-Dryer.

Eventually, the work done because of this grant is expected to be housed on the website of the Dust Alliance for North America, the university said.