Saharan dust...a Bahamas boon?

CREDIT: Violetta on

Back in the day (don’t all good stories start like this?)...I attended the yearly Bahamas Weather Conference for television meteorologists. Such speakers as Bill Gray of Colorado State University, directors of the National Hurricane Center, and even our own Bill Read attended to speak on, primarily, tropical topics. The Bahamas hosted the annual event to teach us weather folks more about the island chain, like how many islands are there? Seven hundred. Now name them. Just kidding.

The real goal was a geography lesson because TV weather gurus have a tendency to just point at the Bahamas when a hurricane approaches without really referencing the northern islands versus the central islands versus the southern islands. While one area may be affected, the other may be just fine. Here’s a link summarizing the conference from 2009. We learned a lot about storms and how they affect the Bahamas but there was one thing we didn’t learn: how Saharan dust may actually sustain them.

With all the talk about the Saharan dust the past weeks, one viewer commented on my last blog:

from Bahama_Roots

First, this Bahama native pronounces Sahara like I do--har verus hair -- must be those British roots, and second, yes, they included a link. Scientists published a study in the journal Geoscience World (2014) analyzing sediments from the Bahamas and comparing them to Saharan Dust -- the dust has its own “DNA”, so to speak. The rich iron and manganese found in the Bahamas underlying bedding (the Great Bahama Bank) closely matches the Saharan dust that has been blowing across the Atlantic Ocean for eons. In addition, the authors suggest that the dust helps cynobacteria grow which use Saharan minerals to pull nitrogen from the atmosphere to supply nutrients and create carbonate. Carbonate helps sustain coral.

The Smithsonian Magazine published a simple read on this discovery and also notes that the Amazon rain forest depends on Saharan dust nutrients and that likely Bermuda’s red dunes trace back to the desert dust as well!

I’ll tell you one thing I did learn in the Bahamas -- the Bahamian people are some of the most friendly, cheerful, accommodating souls I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I miss going to that conference which wound down after the economy tanked in 2008. A revival was planned for, you guessed it, spring of 2020 and COVID-19 got in the way. So maybe I’ll just have to go as a tourist and enjoy those beaches!


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About the Author:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with four decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.