Exploring Atmospheric Dust and Climate

Exploring Atmospheric Dust and Climate is a collection of educational activities that can be used to engage the public around the topic of atmospheric dust and how it affects climate change.

This visualization was generated from model data and shows dust circulation in the atmosphere throughout one year. There are between 17-20 million tons of dust in the atmosphere.

Learning the story of dust helps us better understand Earth’s climate system and provides clues about how to mitigate current climate warming. The activities are designed for museums, science centers, and outreach events, but could also be implemented in formal education settings from upper elementary through high school.

Activities in this collection:

  • Pumping Iron: How Dust Can Change the Climate
  • Dust Tales: The Story of Atmospheric Dust
  • Dust on the Move
  • Exploring Atmospheric Dust and Climate with Augmented Reality 
  • Science on a Sphere® - Exploring Atmospheric Dust and Climate 

Translated activity materials are available in Mandarin.

How do you plan to use the activities?

The resources linked from this page are provided to support using the Exploring Atmospheric Dust and Climate activities in a variety of settings. For each activity, you will find downloadable print resources, a facilitator guide, and other relevant links that will allow you to create a version of the activities to use with your audiences or to create replacement materials if you are a museum that has received one of our activity kits.

The print resources are provided in two different formats:

  • Professional Print ready files are best suited for use in a museum or with public audiences (formatted for professional printers - will print in custom page sizes)
  • Print at home files are best suited for use in a classroom or educational setting, or for personal use (formatted for an office or home printer - will print in standard 8.5 x 11 pages)

Download the complete facilitator guide for all activities in the collection

A map of the world showing locations of dust deposition under current climate conditions with highlighted deserts which are the dust source regions of the world.

Dust Tales: The Story of Atmospheric Dust

An interactive collection of data maps tells the story of atmospheric dust by answering questions such as: Where are the dustiest places on Earth? Where does dust come from, and how is it dispersed? Has it always been this dusty? And how does atmospheric dust affect Earth’s climate? 

Dust Tales Resources
Materials that are part of the Dust on the Move activity: sediment samples, digital microscope, samples in test tubes, laptop, and activity sign.

Dust on the Move

A hands-on experience to answer the question "What is atmospheric dust?" Learn how grains of dust compare in size to other common sediments and explore how dust disperses across the surface of the Earth.

Dust on the Move Resources
This image shows how the Pumping Iron game should be set up. Station signs are arranged around a long table with their card decks in front of them. The intro poster is displayed on a tripod in the middle of the station signs.

Pumping Iron: How Dust Can Change the Climate

A station-based card game where players trace the movement of dust through different parts of the Earth system and learn how dust and phytoplankton interact to help cool the climate.

Pumping Iron resources
A augmented reality visualization of the Earth and dust circulating in the atmosphere. This is an example of what the MeteoAR activity looks like.

Exploring Atmospheric Dust and Climate with Augmented Reality

View datasets of atmospheric dust, chlorophyll, iron, and nitrate in augmented reality by using the MeteoAR app (installed on a tablet or smartphone) and the Dust and Climate Parts I and II printable science sheets.

Dust and Climate Meteo-AR Resources
A Science on Sphere exhibit is mounted in a museum space. The circulation of dust video is displayed on the sphere.

Science on a Sphere® - Exploring Atmospheric Dust and Climate

For museums, science centers, and facilities with a Science on a Sphere®(SOS), you can access the Exploring Atmospheric Dust and Climate datasets through the Live Programs Catalog available on the SOS website. From there, you will find the downloadable playlist, docent script, and accompanying resources.

Get the Exploring Atmospheric Dust and Climate Live Program for SOS

DUST PIRE Project Support and Collaborators

The Exploring Atmospheric Dust and Climate activities were designed to support outreach efforts for the NSF-funded research project DUST PIRE: Dust stimulated draw-down of atmospheric CO2 as a trigger for Northern Hemisphere Glaciation. The project represents a multi-year, international collaboration between scientists across multiple disciplines, each investigating a unique aspect of the connection between Earth’s climate and atmospheric dust.