Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
Royal Netherlands
Institute for Sea Research
Phone number
+31 (0)222 369 405
Ocean Systems (OCS)
Senior Scientist
  • Marine geology
  • Sedimentology
  • Desert dust and aeolian sedimentary processes.
  • Paleaclimate reconstructions

Dr. Jan Berend Stuut

Senior Scientist

Desert dust’s complex role in the Earth’s climate

Marine geologist Dr Jan-Berend Stuut investigates desert dust’s role in the Earth’s climate. ‘We have placed a large series of measuring instruments in the Atlantic Ocean between Africa and the Caribbean, which all capture dust from the Sahara. When we first found sand grains of nearly half a millimetre in size in these traps, hardly anyone believed us because they seemed to be much too large. Now we have clearly shown that these large dust particles from the Sahara can be blown to the other side of the ocean. Satellite images beautifully reveal which dry riverbeds and dried-up lake floors this dust is emitted from. Furthermore, chemical analysis of the particles provides a sort of “fingerprint” as to where the dust comes from.’

Fertiliser for the ocean

‘This finding has consequences for both the atmosphere and the ocean. Dust scatters light and heat, influences the formation of raindrops and clouds, but also subdues the development of hurricanes. Furthermore, desert dust from the Sahara is full of nutrients as well as metals like iron. It therefore acts as a fertiliser that feeds the oceans. The growth of algae, for example, benefits from this fertiliser. This makes Sahara dust an important factor in the overall balance of algal growth in the oceans and therefore in global climate. Because when those algae die, they can take the carbon they have captured to the ocean floor, and that could somewhat counterbalance the emission of CO2 from fossil-fuel burning’

Both reflector and warm blanket

‘Besides being a fertiliser, which encourages the ocean’s uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Sahara dust can also act as a reflector high in the atmosphere, keeping the sun’s heat away from the earth’s surface. Lower in the atmosphere, however, this same dust acts as a strongly insulating blanket, just like the greenhouse gas CO2, which retains heat. Amongst other things, our research provides meteorologists and other researchers with data about the quantity and quality of dust in the air. They can subsequently study the exact relationships between dust and temperature in the atmosphere.’

Past-dust deposits

‘Besides investigating the various processes in which desert dust plays a role in the current climate, we are also trying to reconstruct the climate of the past using desert dust that can be found in depositions on the seafloor.  The particle size of the dust tells us something about the strength of the ambient winds in the past and the amount of dust relative to river mud tells us something about the aridity in the source areas of these materials. In addition, by studying present-day relationships between wind and wind-blown sediments, we can try and infer quantitative wind-strength reconstructions from past dust deposits.’

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Research interests & specialization

I study two main aspects of desert dust:

1) the depositional aspect allows me to study dust dispersal in the geologic past. Just like rivers nearly always flow to the sea and deliver sediments, winds always blow off land masses and deposit dust in the ocean. Using such marine archives of sediment deposition, I try to reconstruct past environmental conditions in dust-source regions.

2) the marine-environmental effects that dust has are most likely enormous. Desert dust contains all kinds of nutrients and metals, from which marine life can profit. In a couple of projects I am trying to answer the question if dust can be used as an artifical fertiliser for the ocean. We think that this is happening in nature, and should this be the case, we could potentially apply it as a means to combat climate change.

Much more information on dust-related studies at NIOZ can be found at the institute's dustiest website at .

In addition, we are regularly publishing dusty news in the NIOZ dust-blog

Alternatively, you can find more dusty info on my personal website at:

Front of The Australian newspaper showing a beautiful picture of a dust storm.

Linked news

Monday 14 December 2020
Dust research receives NWO Open Competition – XS grant
The Board of NWO Domain Science has awarded the project 'Fertile when wet – wet-deposition of Saharan dust as a means to combat climate change?' by NIOZ researcher Jan-Berend Stuut in the NWO Open Competition Domain Science - XS. The XS category…
Tuesday 04 August 2020
NIOZ on Netflix. How can dust help reduce global warming
Dust seems insignificant, but a dust cloud can do a lot: from generating oxygen and mitigating hurricanes to fertilizing the rainforest. In the third episode of the Netflix orginial series "Connected. The hidden science of everything", dust plays a…
Thursday 23 May 2019
Sugar molecule contributes to reconstruction of prehistoric fire
Little is currently known about how early humans first used fire. That will now change thanks to a new proxy, a measurable substance that can be used to demonstrate forest fires in a distant past. The proxy is the organic substance levoglucosan, a…
Wednesday 12 December 2018
Reuzenstof uit Sahara beïnvloedt atmosfeer en oceaan tot in Cariben
Saharastof verspreidt zich met de passaatwinden duizenden kilometers vanuit het brongebied in westelijke richting over de Atlantische Oceaan. Een nieuw inzicht daarbij is dat óók de grote fractie van het stof (tot ca. een halve millimeter in…

Linked blogs

Tuesday 12 January 2021
From 12 January to 8 February 2021 we will be chasing Saharan dust once more. We intend to service both the dust-collecting buoys "Carmen" and "Laura" as well as sediment-trap mooring M1. These three moorings have been monitoring and sampling Saharan…
Monday 05 October 2020
Podcast Van Delta tot Diepzee aflevering 2_Saharazand als kunstmest van de zee
Afgelopen zomer kopten krant en internet dat een enorme wolk Sahara-zand onderweg was naar de VS. Satellietfoto’s toonden een stofwolk zo lang als de helft van de Atlantische Oceaan. In het land dat het meest ter wereld geplaagd wordt door de…
Wednesday 24 June 2020
An enormous dust storm is making its way across the Atlantic towards the Americas. The dust outbreak, named ‘Godzilla’ because of its size, is a typical summer phenomenon that originates in northwest Africa.
Tuesday 07 April 2020
New dusty paper out: Saharan dust versus Amazon River water
In their new paper that appeared today in the open-access version of Limnology & Oceanography, entitled “Multiple drivers of production and particle export in the western tropical North Atlantic”, Laura Korte and colleagues present a comprehensive…
Friday 13 March 2020
New dusty paper out: Transatlantic Saharan dust fluxes
In their new paper that appeared today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, Michèlle van der Does and colleagues present the first continuous two-year record of Transatlantic Saharan-dust fluxes, which they compare to modelled dust fluxes…
Wednesday 26 February 2020
Calima at the Canary Islands
Every now and then, the Canary Islands experience severe dust outbreaks from the Sahara Desert. The local population call the wind that carries the Saharan dust "Calima" , which is in fact the local name for the dry and hot winds that are also known…
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 and…
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…

NIOZ publications

Linked projects

TRAFFIC_Transatlantic fluxes of Saharan dust
Jan Berend Stuut
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
Project duration
31 Dec 2012 - 31 Dec 2017
DustTraffic: Transatlantic fluxes of Saharan dust: changing climate through fertilising the ocean?
Jan Berend Stuut
European Community || European Research Council
Project duration
1 Oct 2012 - 30 Sep 2017