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March 1 2013

Dust from the Sahara Can Seed Rain and Snow Clouds Over the Western U.S.

The fascinating idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in Asia can change the path of a hurricane over the Pacific is, alas, probably not accurate. But slight changes in one part of the atmosphere can indeed have disproportionate effects elsewhere, a concept known as the butterfly effect.

Just how slight one of these factors can be—and how incredibly far away their effects can reach—is vividly illustrated by a new finding by an international team of atmospheric scientists and chemists from the U.S. and Israel. As they document in a study published today in Science, dust blown from as far away as the Sahara desert of Africa can seed rain and snow clouds in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.

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