Multi-sectoral impact assessment of an extreme African dust episode in the Eastern Mediterranean in March 2018

Sci Total Environ. 2022 Jun 22;843:156861. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.156861. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

In late March 2018, a large part of the Eastern Mediterranean experienced an extraordinary episode of African dust, one of the most intense in recent years, here referred to as the "Minoan Red" event. The episode mainly affected the Greek island of Crete, where the highest aerosol concentrations over the past 15 yeas were recorded, although impacts were also felt well beyond this core area. Our study fills a gap in dust research by assessing the multi-sectoral impacts of sand and dust storms and their socioeconomic implications. Specifically, we provide a multi-sectoral impact assessment of Crete during the occurrence of this exceptional African dust event. During the day of the occurrence of the maximum dust concentration in Crete, i.e. March 22nd, 2018, we identified impacts on meteorological conditions, agriculture, transport, energy, society (including closing of schools and cancellation of social events), and emergency response systems. As a result, the event led to a 3-fold increase in daily emergency responses compare to previous days associated with urban emergencies and wildfires, a 3.5-fold increase in hospital visits and admissions for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) exacerbations and dyspnoea, a reduction of visibility causing aircraft traffic disruptions (eleven cancellations and seven delays), and a reduction of solar energy production. We estimate the cost of direct and indirect effects of the dust episode, considering the most affected socio-economic sectors (e.g. civil protection, aviation, health and solar energy production), to be between 3.4 and 3.8 million EUR for Crete. Since such desert dust transport episodes are natural, meteorology-driven and thus to a large extent unavoidable, we argue that the efficiency of actions to mitigate dust impacts depends on the accuracy of operational dust forecasting and the implementation of relevant early warning systems for social awareness.

Keywords: Aviation; Dust episode; Health; Impacts; Modelling; Monitoring; Solar radiation.