This Is How Saharan Dust from Africa Feeds Atlantic Ocean Life
by Owen James Burke
(Photo: The Independent)
Wind and rain carrying plumes of red dust thousands of miles across the Atlantic may present certain environmental hazards for humans and certain other coastal creatures, but that’s no comparison to the bedrock it provides for life in the mid-Atlantic Ocean.
Above: A satellite image of a Saharan dust storm leaving west Africa c. 1988 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
It is not only the trees and plants in the Amazon rainforest but the deep sea critters of the Atlantic which also rely on the winds from Africa. Some 10 percent of the iron found in the Atlantic Ocean comes from American coastal mud, while another measurable portion comes from the hydrothermal vents of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, but most of the iron in the Atlantic Ocean can be traced back to the Sahara Desert.
According to a recent report in Scientific American, somewhere between 71 and 87 percent of the iron found in the Atlantic Ocean, which supports photosynthesis and helps larger organisms develop hemoglobin, is delivered by winds bringing Saharan Dust from Africa.
This research also explains (at least partly) why coastal waters can take on a green hue (thanks to iron-rich soils) while the mid ocean maintains a cobalt blue, relying majorly upon deposits from the Sahara to foster life.
So while you’re covering your eyes and mouth heading for shelter when the winds are in from Africa, know that the chloroplasts and gills of the sea are opening up and waiting for the gift of life from on high.