Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
Phone number
+31 (0)222 36 9405
Location
Texel
Department
Ocean Systems (OCS)
Function
Research Leader
Expertise
  • (Aeolian) Sedimentology
  • Marine geology
  • Desert dust and aeolian sedimentary processes.
  • Palaeoclimate reconstructions

Prof. Dr. Jan-Berend Stuut

Research Leader

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

Marine geologist prof 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.’

Read more +

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 www.nioz.nl/dust .

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: www.stuut.tv

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

Linked news

Tuesday 25 July 2023
Sahara dust can enhance removal of methane from the atmosphere
There is a hidden link between Saharan dust clouds and the levels of atmospheric methane – a strong greenhouse gas. A team of international scientists, including Jan-Berend Stuut, studied a mechanism that could significantly alter our understanding…
Monday 18 October 2021
Inaugural lecture Jan-Berend Stuut 21 October 2021 | 'Desert dust plays a major role in our climate'
"It is an insulating blanket, a reflective sunscreen and it also feeds the algae in the oceans with nutrients; dust from the desert plays a much bigger role in our climate than many people realize." This is what NIOZ researcher Professor Jan-Berend…
Wednesday 24 February 2021
Jan-Berend Stuut appointed honorary professor Aeolian sedimentology
On March 1, 2021 Jan-Berend Stuut will be appointed as honorary professor of Aeolian Sedimentology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. As a marine geologist, Stuut (NIOZ and VU) investigates the role of desert dust in the Earth’s climate both at…
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

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
MedDust2022
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
MSM104 SIPA
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…
Monday 22 February 2021
Saharan dust in Europe
Every year, about 180 Million Ton (180,000,000,000kg) is blown with the Trade winds towards the Atlantic Ocean and less than a quarter of that material (~40MTon) reaches the Caribbean. This dust takes about one week to cross the Atlantic Ocean, a…

NIOZ publications

Linked projects

UUNIOZ_Unravelling seasonal dust-induced productivity changes in the Mediterranean Sea
Supervisor
Jan-Berend Stuut
Funder
Utrecht University
Project duration
1 Jan 2021 - 31 Dec 2025
TRAFFIC_Transatlantic fluxes of Saharan dust
Supervisor
Jan-Berend Stuut
Funder
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?
Supervisor
Jan-Berend Stuut
Funder
European Community || European Research Council
Project duration
1 Oct 2012 - 30 Sep 2017
UUNIOZ_Unravelling seasonal dust-induced productivity changes in the Mediterranean Sea
Supervisor
Jan-Berend Stuut
Funder
Utrecht University
Project duration
1 Jan 2021 - 31 Dec 2025