Climate, not conflict, explains extreme Middle East dust storm

The recent dust storm in the Middle East (Sepember 2015) was publicized in the media as a sign of an impending 'Dust Bowl.' Its severity, demonstrated by extreme aerosol optical depth in the atmosphere in the 99th percentile compared to historical data, was attributed to the ongoing regional conflict. However, surface meteorological and remote sensing data, as well as regional climate model simulations, support an alternative hypothesis: the historically unprecedented aridity played a more prominent role, as evidenced by unusual climatic and meteorological conditions prior to and during the storm. Remotely sensed normalized difference vegetation index demonstrates that vegetation cover was high in 2015 relative to the prior drought and conflict periods, suggesting that agricultural activity was not diminished during that year, thus negating the media narrative.

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