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Saharan Dust Could Be Good For The Environment, Scientist Says

  • View of Havana City covered by the Saharan dust plume on June 25, 2020

    View of Havana City covered by the Saharan dust plume on June 25, 2020 | Photo: EFE/Yander Zamora

Published 25 June 2020

It could have a positive impact on reducing hurricanes occurrence and enhancing CO2 uptake in the ocean.

As the Saharan dust plume crosses the Caribbean in its way to the Gulf Coast region, the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University professor Natalie Mahowald on Thursday stated it could have positive environmental effects.


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Even when dust plume threatens air quality, According to Mahowald, it could lead to fewer hurricanes and enhanced CO2 uptake in the ocean.

"North African dust over the tropical North Atlantic blocks the incoming sunlight and tends to reduce the ocean temperature. This tends to lead to fewer and weaker hurricanes, so that is good news for folks living in the tropics."

The professor, who is also a fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, explained that although when dust composition is poorly known, it could help to develop biodiversity due to some vital components present in it.

Mahowald stressed that when the dust falls onto the ocean, there are microorganisms that can benefit from some of its properties.

"Once the dust deposits onto the ocean, the dust can provide nutrients for ocean phytoplankton to have blooms, because the dust carries both phosphorus and iron," she explained.

"Ocean biota in the summer are often starving for both phosphorus and iron, and thus having this additional infusion of nutrients can enhance their growth, potentially enhancing CO2 uptake."

Mahowald is currently working on a NASA project called EMIT that aims to study desert dust's impact on climate.

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