In August 2015, a dust storm blanketed large areas of seven Middle East nations in a haze of dust and sand thick enough to obscure them from satellite view. The storm led to several deaths, thousands of cases of respiratory ailments and injuries, and canceled airline flights and closed ports.
At the time, the storm’s unusual severity was attributed to the ongoing civil war in Syria by media outlets in the Middle East, Europe and the United States. Reports blamed the conflict for changes in land use and cover — and for activities like increased military traffic over unpaved surfaces and farmers reducing irrigation or abandoning agricultural land — that created extreme amounts of dust to fuel the storm.
Now, a team of researchers including Elie Bou-Zeid an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton who experienced the storm while in Lebanon, have found a more likely cause for the unprecedented storm — it was not human conflict, but a combination of climatic factors and unusual weather.