French scientists call for samples of Sahara sand in snow

Researchers in Toulouse and Grenoble have already received samples of snow flecked with Saharan sand, as part of their studies

14 February 2021
Orange sand in the Pyrenees. French scientists call for samples of Sahara sand in snowSand from the Sahara caused orange skies and orange snow in France this week, as researchers launch a study into the phenomenon
By Hannah Thompson

Scientists in France are calling on the public to help them analyse grains of Sahara sand embedded in snow, to test its chemical properties and help inform future weather models.

Researchers in Toulouse and Grenoble have asked members of the public to gather and send samples of this “orange snow” - snow with grains of sand embedded within it - to help with their analysis.

The study is being conducted by snow study centre le Centre d’études de la neige in Toulouse, and geosciences institute l’Institut des Géosciences de l’environnement in Grenoble.

It comes after France saw “dramatic orange skies” over Toulouse, Lyon and Grenoble earlier this month, caused by Sahara sand. The phenomenon this year coincided with heavy snowfall in much of the country, hence the mix.

Read more: Dramatic orange skies in France caused by Sahara sand

Dr Marie Dumont, director of snow studies at a Météo France research unit based at Grenoble University, told news source Le Dauphiné: “Deposits of Saharan sand do happen, but usually later in the year.

“The intensity varies a lot too, but this episode was intense and spectacular for many people. And this has an impact on the accelerated melting of the snow, which can last from 5-6 days…[and even] up to 40 days at high altitude.”

Samples of the sand-flecked snow have been sent in from across the country, Dr Dumont said.

The scientists filter, dry then weigh the particles; and some of the samples are kept frozen to allow researchers to study the average size of the particles.

Dr Dumont said: “As a researcher it is great to see this cooperation between us and the public.”

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