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Dust to Dust

Planetary Rooster Tails

Rev. J. A. Wix, of Cornwall, England, reports that on January 23, 1902 on the wash he had hung out to dry the day before, that is was "... splashed to such an extent by some yellowish 'mess' that all had to be re-washed, while the cabbages were covered with a dust resembling Peruvian guano." Rev. Wix was an obviously either very well traveled or a connoisseur of imported garden fertilizers. [Source: Symons's Monthly Weather Meteorological Magazine 37:1-4. 1902]. The winds for the days before this January 23 indicate that this was North Africa falling on Cornwall. The same stuff that landed on the Beagle and Chuck Darwin reported on in his Voyages of the Beagle.

At UVA, we have a graduate student [Bob Swap (1992) Tellus: 44B: 133-149] working on the dispersal of dust out of Africa to the Amazon where it falls with the rain and provides much needed nutrients. Neat idea. I can see the National Inquirer headlines now -- CHAD FERTILIZES AMAZONIA!

The significant thing is that people are beginning to consider the actions of one ecosystem on another even at a distance! While the dust of North Africa reaches Miami and episodically reddens everything, most of the dust falls out either over the Amazon or the Sargasso Sea. Nice places in need of nutrients. Deep-sea cores off Africa indicate that the flux of the dust out of Africa is modulated with glacial and inter-glacial time scales.

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