On the Size of the Cosmic Dust Input to the Earth’s Atmosphere
Abstract:Current estimates of the magnitude of the cosmic dust input range from 2 to over 100 tons per day (t d-1), depending on whether the measurements are made in space, in the middle atmosphere, or in polar ice cores. This nearly 2 order-of-magnitude discrepancy indicates that there are flaws in perhaps both the interpretation of the experimental observations and the atmospheric models that have been used to make the estimates. This paper will describe three new estimates of the dust input, and attempt to reconcile them.
The first is a zodiacal dust cloud model which predicts that more than 90% of the dust entering the atmosphere comes from Jupiter Family Comets, and that the dust is mostly in a near-prograde orbit and should enter the atmosphere with an average velocity around 14 km s-1. However, relatively few of these slow particles are observed, even by the powerful Arecibo 430 MHz radar. Using coupled models of meteoroid differential ablation, ionization and radar detection to compute the probability of detecting a specified meteoroid in the Arecibo beam, an upper limit to the cosmic dust input of 16 t d-1 has been obtained from the radar obsevations.
The second method is to use lidar measurements of the vertical Na atom flux at the Starfire Optical Range, combined with predictions of the relative geographic variations of the key wave-induced vertical transport processes from the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model (WACCM). The estimated global influx of cosmic dust is then 50 ± 13 t d-1.
The final method is to model several of the mesospheric metal layers - Na, Fe, K and Ca - using WACCM with a full treatment of the gas-phase chemistry of these metals, together with the explicit formation and growth of meteoric smoke particles. The absolute densities of the metal layers can be satisfactorily modelled with a dust input of up to 25 t d-1 if the dust mass and velocity distribution is that predicted by the zodiacal dust cloud model referred to above.