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More Than Meets the Eye: New Study Reveals Benefits of Dust Storms on Marine Life

Dec 08, 2016 04:52 AM EST

Emerging research reveals the dramatic effects of dust storms on marine life. The paper, entitled "Transport of East Asian dust storms to the marginal seas of China and the southern North Pacific in spring 2010" published in the journal Atmospheric Environment, has found that dust storms (which carries beneficial nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and iron) could positively affect the biogeochemical cycle in downwind sea regions, boost marine life productivity, and decrease atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations.

Although many scientists acknowledged the potential impacts of atmospheric deposition on marine biogeochemical cycle after the "iron hypothesis" was made in the late 1980s, only a limited amount of research have actually explored and examined the direct connection between natural dust events and marine biological productivity.

Through years of series studies by researchers from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Dr. Tan Saichun and Prof. Shi Guangyu, and their co-authors from Ocean University of China and Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, the remarkable correlations were identified between East Asian dust events and chlorophyll-a concentrations in the open ocean of North Pacific Ocean and Chinese marginal seas, Eureka Alert reports.

Aside from long-term statistics analysis, dust storm case studies on the Yellow Sea confirmed that the phytoplankton growth in the area was due to dust deposition. Researchers noted that peak chlorophyll-a concentration was significantly higher by 40 percent during dust years compared to non-dust years, suggesting the possibility of dust fertilization on marine biological productivity.

The combination of satellite-observed column and vertical properties of aerosol by NASA also illustrated the movement of dust storms from areas originally affected to the seas being studied (Chinese marginal seas and southern North Pacific).

Published on the international journal, Atmospheric Environment, the researchers concluded:

"Results showed that dust containing iron was the most important factor affecting phytoplankton growth and the deposition of iron via severe dust storms satisfied the increase in demand required for phytoplankton growth (115-291%), followed by nitrogen (it accounted for up to 1.7-4.0%), and phosphorus was the smallest one (it accounted for up to 0.2-0.5%)."

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