In their research, Joseph Prospero, professor emeritus at the University of Miami's School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and collaborators at the University of Houston and Arizona State University found the average air concentrations of inhalable particles in Houston more than doubled during a major Saharan dust intrusion, the University of Miami said in a release.
The researchers distinguished between particles flung across the Atlantic and those from local sources in the Houston region, establishing a "fingerprint" of the African dust, the university said.
The researchers said that, as far as they knew, theirs is the first study that isolates, differentiates and quantifies the air contaminants in the United States during the incursion of African dust. Concerns have been raised that the fine airborne dust particles could be a health problem for asthmatics and people with respiratory problems.
"Current EPA air quality standards are based on the total amount of particles that are in the air," Prospero said. "Our study will contribute to our ability to discriminate and identify the dominant components in the air during long-range transport events."
He said the researchers hoped their work would help regulatory agencies respond to health and environmental issues linked to African dust.
A better understanding of the processes concerning Saharan air outbreaks would help create models that can predict future trends, Prospero said.