NASA is using one of its satellites to determine how much sand from the Sahara Desert in Africa ends up helping the Amazon rainforest in South America to grow. While the two locations are on different continents, the amount of dust from the desert that makes its way to the rain forest will surprise you. NASA used one of its satellites to quantify how much dust from the desert makes it to South America for the first time.
The satellite quantified the amount of dust in three dimensions and the scientists studying the results were able to measure the amount of dust and how much phosphorus is carried. This marks the first time that satellite based estimates of the amount of phosphorus transported to the Amazon rainforest over multiple years has been quantified according to lead scientific paper author Hongbin Yu.
Yu is an atmospheric scientist at the University of Maryland who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The phosphorus being carried form the Sahara desert comes from the Bodele Depression in Chad, which is an ancient dry lakebed. Phosphorus is also an essential mineral for plant growth and is found in commercial fertilizers.
The amount of phosphorus that reaches the Amazon from the Sahara is estimated at 22,000 tons per year and is the same amount lost from the Amazon rain forest by rain and flooding each year. An average of 182 million tons of dust is carried each year by the wind and weather at longitude 15W.