BSC contributes to NASA’s new mission to map the composition of the world's dust sources

15 July 2022

ICREA and AXA Professor Carlos Pérez García-Pando, leader of the BSC’s Atmospheric Composition group, is part of the Science Team of NASA's Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT).

EMIT will analyze dust carried through the atmosphere from arid regions and will help scientists better understand the role of airborne dust in heating and cooling the planet.

NASA’s new mineral dust detector has been launched to the International Space Station from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral (Florida, USA) on July 14. The instrument has been developed within the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT), led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Carlos Pérez García-Pando, researcher at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center-Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS), is part of the EMIT Science Team, composed of international leaders in the fields of Earth System Modelling, mineral dust aerosols, surface geology, and imaging spectroscopy.

The EMIT instrument will measure the composition of minerals that become airborne dust in Earth’s arid regions. The purpose is to better understand how these fine particles of soil and clay lifted into the atmosphere from deserts impact Earth’s ecosystems and, ultimately, how they affect climate. For example, dust containing dark minerals that absorb sunlight can warm an area, while light-colored mineral dust can cool it. The investigation will collect images for one year to generate maps of the world’s mineral-dust sources that will help scientists to model climate effects.

“Dust aerosols created by wind erosion of arid surfaces are amongst the largest contributors to the global particle mass load in the atmosphere, dominating climate effects over large areas of the Earth,” said ICREA and AXA Professor Carlos Pérez García-Pando, who leads the Atmospheric Composition group at BSC’s Earth Sciences Department. These effects on the planet's climate depend fundamentally on the regional variations in dust mineral composition, which are poorly represented in the current Earth system models.

“In this context, the EMIT project has the potential of triggering a paradigm shift by allowing the production of an accurate near-global database of surface mineralogy that improves the analyses that underpin the current mineralogical atlases used in models that calculate climate effects. By measuring in detail which minerals make up the dust, EMIT will help answer whether dust aerosols warm or cool the atmosphere, as well as how that might change under future climate scenarios,” added Pérez García-Pando.

As a member of the EMIT Science Team, Prof. Pérez García-Pando ensures the accomplishment of the science mission objectives. His group´s role is to help constrain the emitted mineral sizes and fractions that result from the fragmentation of soil aggregates during wind erosion and contribute to the climate model simulations that will be performed using the new map.

In addition, the BSC researcher leads an ERC Consolidator grant entitled FRAGMENT (FRontiers in dust minerAloGical coMposition and its Effects upoN climaTe), which is aligned with and complementary to EMIT. FRAGMENT performs field campaigns in desert regions to test theory that will ultimately contribute to the optimal use of the EMIT surface mineralogy datasets in Earth system models.

Mapping the world’s mineral-dust sources

EMIT’s instrument is one of the most sophisticated Earth-facing imaging spectrometers ever put in space by NASA. It receives sunlight reflected from Earth, then divides it into hundreds of distinct colours and records it on a grid of light detectors, allowing scientists to understand the chemical properties of what they are observing. The device is able to collect more than a billion measurements around the globe over the course of a year, mapping the composition of minerals on Earth’s surface.

EMIT is one of the investigations launched to the International Space Station by the SpaceX cargo Dragon as part of SpaceX’s 25th commercial resupply services mission for NASA. The launch was scheduled for June 9, but had to be postponed to investigate a possible leak detected during fueling of the spacecraft at Cape Canaveral. Other experiments aboard the Dragon capsule include studies of the immune system, wound healing, soil communities, and cell-free biomarkers.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech (

The AXA Chair on Sand and Dust Storms and the Barcelona Dust Regional Center

The BSC, the national supercomputing center in Spain, is a world reference institution in the field of dust research. The Earth Sciences Department hosts a long-term mineral dust programme supported by the AXA Research Fund through the AXA Chair on Sand and Dust Storms, which combines fundamental research, operational dust forecasting and impact and risk assessment research.

The BSC also hosts the Barcelona Dust Regional Center, which coordinates the research activities and operations of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Sand and Dust Storms Warning Advisory and Assessment System (SDS-WAS) in Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. It was created in 2007 thanks to the formal agreement between the BSC and the Spanish Meteorological Agency (AEMET).

The Barcelona Dust Regional Center provides access to available dust products, both forecasts and observations, as well as to related information on advances on the mineral dust research and their impacts and related events, serving thousands of users around the world every day. In order to offer an improved experience and adopt a more intuitive approach, the web platform underwent a complete redesign early this year.