Seeing the big picture – How the Sahara feeds the Amazon rainforest

Now and again a new scientific discovery highlights the incredible complexity of our planet’s systems. Here’s the latest. It looks like the dry, sandy Sahara fertilises the lush rainforests of the Amazon basin, despite the fact that they’re thousands of miles apart.

The earth’s delicate balance revealed

It’s an unexpected connection and highlights yet again – as if we needed it – the delicacy of the balance between landscapes, climate and continents. And it highlights once again that no landmass is an island, no place functions in isolation.

The video, a brilliant 3D job by the clever folk at NASA, shows how one of the world’s driest places fertilises the planet’s biggest rainforest. The data was collected by a NASA satellite and shows how massive amounts of red Sahara dust is driven 3000 miles around the planet to land in the Amazon rainforest, where it delivers essential nutrients.

How much dust, exactly?

The dust transport estimates were gathered by a Lidar instrument on NASA’s Cloud Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation, over a five year period from 2007 to 2013. It looks like a whopping 27.7 million tonnes of desert dust is dropped on the Amazon basin every year. The resulting 3D rendering buy NASA reveals both the amount of dust and its eerie trail as it drifts across the Atlantic.

The research illustrates yet again that the system that supports life on earth is incredibly complex and delicate, and how vital it is to conserve it. As The Telegraph newspaper reported:

“The annual dust dump contains approximately 22,000 tonnes of phosphorous – an essential nutrient that acts as a fertiliser. Most of this phospohorous comes from the Bodélé Depression in Chad, which is a ancient lake bed where rock minerals composed of dead microorganisms are loaded with phosphorous. This is almost exactly the same amount that is washed away from the Amazon basin by rain and flooding every year. It shows how important one of the planet’s driest places is helping sustain one of its most fertile.”

Article by The Rainforest Foundation.


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