NASA Satellite Reveals How Much Saharan Dust Feeds Amazon's Plants
The Sahara Desert is a near-uninterrupted brown band of sand across the northern third of Africa. The Amazon rain forest is a dense green mass of jungle that covers northeast South America. But after strong winds sweep across the Sahara, a dust cloud rises in the air, stretches between the continents, and ties together the desert and the jungle. For the first time, a NASA satellite has quantified in three dimensions how much dust makes this trans-Atlantic journey. Scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center have also calculated how much phosphorus - remnant in Saharan sands from part of the desert's past as a lake bed - gets carried across the ocean from one of the planet's most desolate places to one of its most fertile. This trans-continental journey of dust is important because of what is in the dust. Specifically the dust picked up from the Bodélé Depression in Chad, an ancient lake bed where rock minerals composed of dead microorganisms are loaded with phosphorus. Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plant proteins and growth, which the Amazon rain forest depends on in order to flourish.