Scientists have found that when dirt breaks apart in the atmosphere, it follows a pattern similar to broken glass and other brittle objects.
Jasper Kok at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) said that shattered dirt appears to produce an unexpectedly high number of large dust fragments.
He added that their size determines how they affect climate and weather, influencing the amount of solar energy in the global atmosphere as well as the formation of clouds and precipitation in more dust-prone regions.
Because it plays an important role in controlling the amount of solar energy in the atmosphere, the finding has implications in predicting climate change.
"The idea that all these objects shatter in the same way is a beautiful thing, actually. It's nature's way of creating order in chaos," Kok said.
"As small as they are, conglomerates of dust particles in soils behave the same way on impact as a glass dropped on a kitchen floor. Knowing this pattern can help us put together a clearer picture of what our future climate will look like," he added.
Not just that, the study may also improve the accuracy of weather forecasting, especially in dust-prone regions. Results also indicate that marine ecosystems, which draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, may receive substantially more iron from airborne particles than previously estimated.
The study appears this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.