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Since 1999 Cairo and the Nile delta region have suffered from air pollution episodes called the “black cloud” during the fall season. These have been attributed to either burning of agriculture waste or long-range transport of desert dust. Here we present a detailed analysis of the optical and microphysical aerosol properties, based on satellite data. Monthly mean values of Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aerosol optical depth (AOD) at 550 nm were examined for the 10 yr period from 2000–2009. Significant monthly variability is observed in the AOD with maxima in April or May (_0.5) and October (_0.45), and a minimum in December and January (_0.2). Monthly mean values of UV Aerosol Index (UVAI) retrieved by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) for 4 yr (2005–2008) exhibit the same AOD pattern. The carbonaceous aerosols during the black cloud periods are confined to the planetary boundary layer (PBL), while dust aerosols exist over a wider range of altitudes, as shown by Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) aerosol profiles. The monthly climatology of Multi-angle Imaging Spectro-Radiometer (MISR) data show that the aerosols during the black cloud periods are spherical with a higher percentage of small and medium size particles, whereas the spring aerosols are mostly large non-spherical particles. All of the results show that the air quality in Cairo and the Nile delta region is subject to a complex mixture of air pollution types, especially in the fall season, when biomass burning contributes to a background of urban pollution and desert dust.


This article was originally published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, volume 11, issue, 20, in 2011.

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