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The Bahamas Were Crafted by the Sahara?

Jul 28, 2014 01:56 PM EDT

The gorgeous Bahamian islands may have actually been created by bacteria and sand all the way from the Sahara desert, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Geology, details how photosynthetic cyanobacteria may have been the craftsmen behind the underwater columns of ancient coral reef limestone that support the Bahamas today.

Satellite imagery of the Bahamas will quickly reveal that the islands are situated upon regions of shallower water called the Bahama Banks - the tops of these limestone reefs that stretch about two miles down to the ocean floor.

Experts have theorized in the past that ancient animals created the towers by generating vast amounts of carbonate. However, the sea surrounding the Bahamas is poor in nutrients, and it was likely this way even in ancient times. This makes it difficult for many to believe this theory.

However, researchers from the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science believe that photosynthetic cyanobacteria fit the bill, building the Bahama Banks even while thriving in the region's remarkably clear waters.

Of course, there is always a catch.

"Cyanobacteria need 10 times more iron than other photosynthesizers because they fix atmospheric nitrogen," Peter Swart, lead author of the study, explained in a statement.

The researchers found the signature of atmospheric nitrogen - a very specific isotopic ratio - in particularly whitened portions of the Bank's carbonate structure, indicating the presence of these organisms.

But where did they get their iron? Swart and his team of investigators suggest that the Sahara desert, of all places, provided it. Iron-rich sand and dust particles from the Sahara can be found blowing across the Atlantic Ocean to settle around the Bahama Bank even today. The 5,000 mile journey of these particles likely fed the process that formed the Bahamian islands over the last 100 million years.

So the next time you are relaxing on the soft shores of the Bahamas, just remember that it was likely crafted by one of the harshest deserts in the world.

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