[at-muhs-fer-ik, -feer-]
dust, atmospheric, minute particles slowly settling or suspended by slight currents and existing in varying amounts in all air. There is least dust at high levels over the ocean and most at low levels over cities; dust from smoke is a serious urban problem (see air pollution). Sources of atmospheric dust are winds blowing over dry earth (plowed fields, deserts, and roads), the various products of combustion, volcanic eruptions, salt spray from the oceans, pollen and other material from plants, and meteoric particles. The detonation of nuclear devices in the atmosphere creates radioactive dust (fallout), a serious hazard to all forms of life.

Dust sometimes settles quickly on surfaces, but vast quantities are carried to the upper layers of the air and suspended there for long periods of time. The effects of a volcanic eruption such as that of Krakatoa in Indonesia have been observed three years after its occurrence. Large seasonal dust storms occur in the Sahara and neighboring W Africa and in the Taklimakan and Gobi deserts and neighboring NE Asia; Beijing is annually affected by such storms. Dust from large storms in Africa often travels as far as the S United States and the Caribbean, where it can affect air quality, and dust from the Gobi Desert in Asia has been carried as far east as Minnesota. Such dust storms, which are aggravated by desertification, can have negative health and economic effects; in addition to potentially harmful mineral particles, the dust may include bacteria, fungi, viruses, and various pollutants.

Hygroscopic dust particles (those to which water adheres) are the nuclei of condensation in free air; the nucleus of each droplet in a fog or cloud and of each raindrop and snowflake is one of these invisible particles of inorganic or organic dust. John Aitken, a Scottish physicist who in 1880 invented a device for counting particles in air, first correlated dust particles and condensation. Dust is also chiefly responsible, through its scattering effect upon light (diffusion), for one type of haze and for sunrise and sunset colors.

See also Dust Bowl.

or barometric pressure

Force per unit area exerted by the air above the surface of the Earth. Standard sea-level pressure, by definition, equals 1 atmosphere (atm), or 29.92 in. (760 mm) of mercury, 14.70 lbs per square in., or 101.35 kilopascals, but pressure varies with elevation and temperature. It is usually measured with a mercury barometer (hence the term barometric pressure), which indicates the height of a column of mercury that exactly balances the weight of the column of atmosphere above it. It may also be measured using an aneroid barometer, in which the action of atmospheric pressure in bending a metallic surface is made to move a pointer.

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Method of producing a sense of depth in a painting by imitating the effect of atmosphere that makes objects look paler, bluer, and hazier or less distinct in the middle and far distance. The term was coined by Leonardo da Vinci, but the technique can be seen in ancient Greco-Roman wall paintings (e.g., at Pompeii). It was discovered that dust and moisture in the atmosphere caused the scattering of light passing through it; short-wavelength light (blue) is scattered most and long-wavelength light (red) least. Italian painters in Leonardo's time used the device; it was exploited by 15th-century northern European artists and later by J.M.W. Turner.

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