By Rachel Molina,
The Sahara Desert is one of the least hospitable climates on Earth. Its barren plateaus, rocky peaks and shifting sands envelop the northern third of Africa, which sees very little rain, vegetation and life.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic Ocean thrives the world’s largest rainforest. The lush, vibrant Amazon basin, located in northeast South America, supports a vast network of unparalleled ecological diversity.
So, what do these seemingly different climates have in common? They are intimately connected by a 10,000-mile-long intermittent atmospheric river of dust.
Every year, intense Saharan winds send enormous clouds of dust on a trans-Atlantic journey to the Amazon basin. This dust, much of it originating in an ancient lakebed in Chad, is rich in phosphorus. When it reaches the rainforest, the remains of long-dead organisms of the Sahara provide crucial nutrients to the rainforest’s living flora. Phosphorus, which is essential to plant growth, is in short supply in the Amazon. Desert dust dumped into the forest every year helps to diminish this deficit.
NASA researchers are studying this dusty link between Amazon and Sahara, to understand how it operates and how it might be affected by climate change.