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NASA Satellite Reveals Saharan Dust Feeding Amazon’s Plants

May 13, 2015 1:53 PM
Hongbin Yu from ESSIC University of Maryland College Park and co-authors including Tianle Yuan, Lorraine Remer and Zhibo Zhang from JCET UMBC recently published a paper in Geophysical Research Letters that quantifies the amount of dust transported from North Africa and deposited in the Amazon Basin.  Using CALIPSO observations of the 3-dimensional distribution of dust aerosol over a 7-year period, they estimated that an average of 28 ± 20 Tg of dust per year falls into the Basin.  

To put this into perspective, previous work published by this group estimates that 56 Tg of dust per year arrives over North America from Asia and 4 Tg of dust arrives over North America from North Africa. The dust deposited into the Amazon enters the basin from both the east and from the north.  The dust is a fine-grained mineral substance, containing many important plant nutrients, such as phosphorus.  There is sufficient phosphorus in the deposited dust, 23 ±15 g of phosphorus per hectare per year, to offset the amount of phosphorus lost by water runoff and river outflow to the ocean.  Thus, this study demonstrates important interconnections between continents, and the need for interdisciplinary studies of the Earth’s systems.

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