Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
Royal Netherlands
Institute for Sea Research

Dust

Welcome to NIOZ' dustiest web page!

Saharan 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:

Daily images of a Saharan dust outbreak in summer 2013 - animated

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.
With the new website, the blogs that were kept during these cruises have disappeared. You can still read about what we did at sea on an external website: www.stuut.tv 

  • Cruise 64PE464 (autumn 2019)
  • Cruise MSM79 (autumn 2018)
  • Cruise 64PE443 (summer 2018)
  • Cruise M140 (summer 2017)
  • Cruise JC134 (spring 2016)
  • Cruise MSM48 (fall 2015)
  • Cruise 64PE395 (winter 2015)
    ....and older ones

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:

Tuesday 05 November 2019
Expedition 64PE464: DUST2019
From 11 to 23 November 2019 we have been chasing Saharan dust once more. On 11 November RV Pelagia has left the port of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain) to sail south for a two-week expedition to service both the dust-collecting buoys "Carmen" and…
Monday 01 July 2019
DUST | Loooooong tropical-cyclone records
In their new paper that appeared today in the open-access journal Geophysical Research Letters, Jan-Berend Stuut and colleagues present one of the longest existing continuous records (5.3 Million years) of climate history of the northwestern part of…
Tuesday 23 April 2019
DUST | Spring dust is in the air!
Not only spring is in the air; a lot of Saharan dust is presently also blowing towards northern Europe. The distance between the sources in northern Africa and The Netherlands is so large that the material is predominantly very fine grained: clay…
Thursday 13 December 2018
DUST | Giant dust particles in new Science paper
In their new paper that appeared today in the open-access version of Science, Michèlle van der Does and colleagues show how so-called "giant dust particles" defy gravity and are blown through the atmosphere across distances of several thousands of…
Friday 07 December 2018
DUST | PhD Defence Michèlle van der Does
As of today, Michèlle van der Does may call herself a PhD; she successfully defended her thesis "Saharan dust from a marine perspective: transport and deposition along a transect in the Atlantic Ocean" at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. A committee…
Sunday 04 November 2018
Expedition MSM79: chasing Saharan dust
From 9 November until 3 December this year, four NIOZ colleagues have joined expedition MSM79 on board the German research vessel Maria S. Merian, sailing from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain) to Mindelo on Sao Vicente (Cape Verde). Through this…
Tuesday 16 October 2018
PhD defence Laura Korte
From this day on, Laura Korte may call herself a PhD; she successfully defended her thesis “Saharan dust deposition in the equatorial North Atlantic Ocean and its impact on particle export fluxes” at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. A committee of…
Wednesday 08 August 2018
NIOZ@SEA | Saharan dust in the Mediterranean
Research expedition 64PE443 onboard RV Pelagia takes place from 9 to 13 August 2018 and is dedicated to recovering a set of geodetic instruments that have been recording sea-floor movements related to the activity of Mount Etna, as well as to…
Wednesday 04 July 2018
Saharan dust at the source
In their new paper, Michèlle van der Does and colleagues show how the so-called radiogenic isotopes of Sr, Nd, and Hf, as well as a suite of rare-earth elements can be used to demonstrate the Saharan origin of sediments collected while sinking…
Thursday 31 May 2018
Ballasting potential of Saharan dust
In their new paper, Helga van der Jagt (AWI-Bremerhaven, Germany) and colleagues show how Saharan dust particles and marine snow can increase the export of organic matter from the surface ocean towards the sea floor. This process is essential for the…