Sahara in flight
The Sahara is on the move. Well, parts of it. More precisely, particles of it. According to scientists, about 1,700 million tons of dust are produced by deserts every year, and one third of it lands in the oceans. The most popular place for this is the North Atlantic – since it's close to the Sahara. Imagine being way out to sea and seeing a giant sandstorm swirling towards you. It's a pretty surreal idea, but it really does happen.
Earlier this year a team of scientists took to the seas to study the effects of Saharan sand storms on the water – a bit like those guys who chase twisters, but they do it on water, crossing vast swathes of sea to wait for sandstorms to land on top of them.
In the course of their amazing adventure, these particular scientists made a very curious discovery – that iron in the sand causes an increase in the nitrogen-fixing bacterial organism Trichodesmium, which helps to gobble up excess carbon dioxide.
With environmental changes, it's said that deserts could grow, and more sand could make its way to the oceans, causing more dramatic sandstorms – and even more bacteria. Enough to change the course of global warming – who knows? Until we find out, these sandstorms are spectacular to watch, though most of us will probably be doing it from the comfort of our living rooms. RM