Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research


Welcome to NIOZ' dustiest web page!

Desert dust transported over large distances through the atmosphere with the offshore trade winds is a potential fertilizer of the ocean. NIOZ traces dust originating from the Sahara desert across the whole North-Atlantic Ocean using a trans-Atlantic array of moored equipment with a dust-collecting buoy at the surface and sediment traps in the ocean below it.

Below you see a series of seven daily satellite pictures (copyright NASA) in summer 2013, showing the progression of a dust outbreak in norhtwest Africa, blowing across the Atlantic Ocean:

Dust storm Godzilla in June 2020; another example of how large amounts of dust are blown across the Ocean (copyright: NASA)

Every year, numerous of such dust events take place and in total about 180 Million Tons of so-called mineral dust are blown out from the northwest African deserts (including Sahara and Sahel) westward across the Atlantic Ocean. Recent satellite measurements by NASA have demonstrated that between Africa and the Caribbean, about 140 Million Tons are deposited on the ocean as well as on the South-American rainforest.

Such amounts of dust deposited over such a big area are likely to have an impact. In two affiliated projects at NIOZ and another one at partner institute MARUM-Bremen we are studying Saharan dust by collecting it with instruments that we placed underneath the dust plume. We deployed tethered buoys with autonomous dust collectors, powered by solar panels, which suck air through filters. In addition, we placed moorings with sediment traps to collect material settling through the ocean. Both the buoys and moorings provide time series of dust, which we compare with satellite images and meteorological data.
A third way to sample deposited dust is by taking sediment cores from the ocean floor.

In 2012 we deployed the instruments for the first time and we re-visited the instruments regularly throughout the past few years using various research vessels such as NIOZ' own RV Pelagia, but also on foreign ships such as FS Maria S Merian, FS Meteor and RRS James Cook.

The why & how of our work was very-well explained in a Netflix documentary: Connected (episode 3: dust)
Link to Netflix documentary (subscription required)

On the NIOZ site we regularly explain our dusty science through the dust-blog: please don't hesitate to take a look!

One of the many things we like about our work is: going to sea to study the marine environmental impacts of dust deposition. Below you find blogs we wrote during recent expeditions:

  • Expedition MedDust2023 (September 2023 - Mediterranean Sea)
  • Expedition 64PE514 (March 2023 - Eastern subtropical North Atlantic)
  • Expedition MedDust2022 (June 2022 - Mediterranean Sea)
  • Expedition MSM104 (Nov-Dec 2021 - Eastern subtropical North Atlantic)
  • Expedition 64PE482 (Jan-Feb 2021 - Eastern subtropical North Atlantic)
  • Expedition 64PE464 (autumn 2019 - Eastern subtropical North Atlantic)
  • Expedition MSM79 (autumn 2018 - Eastern subtropical North Atlantic)
  • Expedition 64PE443 (summer 2018 - Mediterranean Sea)
  • Expedition M140 (summer 2017 - Eastern subtropical North Atlantic)
  • Expedition JC134 (spring 2016 - Trans-Atlantic)
  • Expedition MSM48 (fall 2015 - Eastern subtropical North Atlantic)
  • Expedition 64PE395 (winter 2015 - Trans-Atlanti)
    ....and older ones

With the new website, the old blogs that were kept during a number of cruises before 2015 sadly have disappeared. You can still read about what we did at sea on an external website: 


The projects TRAFFIC (funded by NWO) and DUSTTRAFFIC (funded by ERC) focus on the marine-environmental effects of dust deposition and we have published some very nice results already, with more papers coming up!

In November 2019 we will set sail again on board RV Pelagia to service the instruments and collect the samples that were collected during the past year. Keep an eye on this website and the blog to follow our adventures at sea!


More dusty news is presented through NIOZ' dust blog:

Friday 05 July 2024
New dusty paper out: high-resolution dust monitoring off northwest Africa
In their new paper that was published today in the journal Frontiers in Marine Sciences, Blanda Matzenbacher and colleagues from VU and NIOZ present the first year of the unprecedented high resolution (4 days!) Saharan dust monitoring sediment-trap…
Sunday 07 April 2024
Early April 2024 Saharan dust to Europe - event
Early April 2024, a big dust cloud took off from Northwest Africa and was blown North across Western Europe. The dust caused spectacular sunsets and caught a lot of media attention. Since we know very little about long-distance aeolian (wind-blown)…
Friday 24 November 2023
T-0 meting van de eerste Texelse kerf gestart
Staatsbosbeheer is voornemens een kerf aan te leggen in de Texelse zeereep. Deze zeereep dreigt namelijk te hoog, te steil en bovendien te smal te worden, waardoor kalkhoudend zandstrand het grijze-duin gebied achter de zeereep niet meer kan…
Thursday 09 November 2023
MedDust 2023
From 9 - 12 October two NIOZ colleagues boarded the Italian tug Lione to recover, service and re-deploy the Mediterranean sediment-trap mooring that is part of a unique time series of Saharan dust collection since the late 1980's. The time series was…
Tuesday 07 March 2023
RV Pelagia expedition 64PE514 - DUST2023
In March 2023, an international group of dusty scientists will board RV Pelagia for an expedition around the Cape Verde Islands to study Saharan-dust deposition and its effects on the marine environment. Colleagues from NIOZ, MARE - Lisbon, MARUM -…
Sunday 04 December 2022
Buoy on the run
Autonomous dust-collecting buoy Carmen has escaped from her mooring line with which she was tethered to the sea floor off Cape Blanc, Mauritania, northwest Africa. She had been deployed in December 2021 and was meant to be serviced again in the late…
Thursday 29 September 2022
Dust in South America
Two members of the international dust team went to Peru to attend the Open Science Conference on Eastern Boundary Upwelling Systems (EBUS): Past, Present and Future & Second International Conference on the Humboldt Current System 19-23 September in…
Monday 27 June 2022
From 20 - 23 June two NIOZ colleagues boarded the Italian tug Macistone to recover, service and re-deploy the Mediterranean sediment-trap mooring that is part of a unique time series of Saharan dust collection since the late 1980's. The time series…
Thursday 04 November 2021
From 18 November until 15 December four NIOZ colleagues are joining research expedition MSM104 "SIPA - Sin­king Par­ti­cles, their pro­duc­tion, trans­fer and trans­for­ma­ti­on" onboard Research Vessel Maria S. Merian, sailing from Emden (northern…
Monday 05 July 2021
Rain determines Saharan dust deposition across the subtropical north Atlantic Ocean
New dusty paper out: rain determines the seasonality in dust deposition across the subtropical north Atlantic Ocean. In their new paper that appeared online in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Michèlle van der Does and colleagues present the…