a little bit of Africa comes to Suffolk

Noticed more dust in the air and it’s a git to get off the windscreen. Apparently a little bit of the Sahara is paying a visit, so the wipers are sanding the glass. The reports in the grauniad seems to be particularly dire, however – I walked four miles today, partly in search of the perfect black car to take this. Can’t say I felt particularly like this mother and child – it must be really bad in The Smoke!

Leanne Stewart, from Eltham in south-east London, described feeling breathless after a routine half-mile walk to her son’s school this morning.

“I’ve been doing the usual school run about half a mile from my house, which is usually quite an easy walk, but I’m still breathless now,” she said. “I could feel my chest getting tighter and tighter and my son, who’s eight, had to stop and have his inhaler.

What I really wanted was a classic black Beemer with the dust on the bonnet but we clearly don’t have the wealth or the drug dealers in my part of town

Saharan dust on a black car in Ipswich
Exotic Saharan dust on a black car in Ipswich

with London and East Anglia in the boresight of the winds bringing this sand

incoming pollution aleart from DEFRA
incoming pollution alert from DEFRA

It’ll be interesting to stick a microscope slide outside tonight and try and catch some of this stuff and see if it looks like miniature sharp sand. It’s a shame that I didn’t try that when we had those lovely aircraft-free skies with the volcanish ash clouds from Eyjafjallajökull

The Guardian has a bit more about where the dust comes from

So just where does this pinky-red dust come from? Dr Steven Godby, a drylands expert at Nottingham Trent University, thinks he has the answer:

The Sahara is the largest desert in the world and contains a number of significant dust source areas. Looking at satellite images captured last Thursday and Friday it seems the dust was generated from two source areas, one in central Algeria close to Tamanrasset and another in southern Morocco to the south of the Atlas Mountains.

To generate dust storms large numbers of silt-sized particles are needed for the wind to pick up and transport and these two areas have been identified as dust ‘hot spots’ in the past.

Google maps link

All this talk of the winds from the south making the old ones feel lethargic brought this old Grace Slick tune from the cusp of the 1980s to mind 🙂

Postscript 4 April – I got my Beemer in the end

one dusty black BMW
one dusty black BMW

I left a microscope slide out in the garden for 24 hours to pick up some dust. The dust looks reasonably sharp and spiky through a microscope. It’s been a long time since I’ve driven a microscope, and the Ermine student microscope is probably not really up to the job 😉

the odd sharp little bits
odd sharp little bits of Africa


dark field variant
dark field variant



4 thoughts on “a little bit of Africa comes to Suffolk”

  1. I was discussing the rampant moss invasion on our lawn at the weekend. The advice my brother in law gave was to rake it out and spread sharp sand over the entire lawn. It sounds like the 2nd part may well have been done for me!

    Being on the suffolk/essex border myself, that map is a little concerning. I was planning on cycling to the station tomorrow (the long way = 50km) but if Leanne from Eltham is right I might not make it to work tomorrow at all. Maybe there is a silver lining in every cloud!


  2. @UTMT It’s an ill wind etc 😉 What I didn’t realise when writing this is that out in the sticks we have largely the dust itself, whereas the pictures I’m seeing from London look mush much worse – seems to be the exhaust pollution making it worse.

    Sharp sand seems a panacea for lawns – I filled in some holes using that. It looked terrible at first but worked a treat after a year! Greg’s link shows the 0.1mm from the Sahara may be good in phosphate 😉


  3. I was so sure this would be about Rose Necked Parakeets. Ahh well, I like dust too.

    Down in the smoke, it’s the only time I’ve been pleased that the office sheilds me from anything connected to air or nature.


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