Satellite Tracks Saharan Dust To Amazon In 3-D

  • Released Tuesday, February 24, 2015
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For the first time, a NASA satellite has quantified in three dimensions how much dust makes the trans-Atlantic journey from the Sahara Desert to the Amazon rainforest. Among this dust is phosphorus, an essential nutrient that acts like a fertilizer, which the Amazon depends on in order to flourish.

The new dust transport estimates were derived from data collected by a lidar instrument on NASA's Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation, or CALIPSO, satellite from 2007 though 2013.

An average of 27.7 million tons of dust per year – enough to fill 104,908 semi trucks – fall to the surface over the Amazon basin. The phosphorus portion, an estimated 22,000 tons per year, is about the same amount as that lost from rain and flooding. The finding is part of a bigger research effort to understand the role of dust and aerosols in the environment and on local and global climate.

Research: The fertilizing role of African dust in the Amazon rainforest: A first multiyear assessment based on data from Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations
Journal: Geophysical Research Letters
Link to paper:

Here is the YouTube video.

This is a video explaining the findings from the first multi-year study measuring the 3-D distribution of dust travelling from the Sahara Desert to the Amazon basin. This video features Hongbin Yu, lead author of the study.

For complete transcript, click here.

This is a conceptual animation of the dust transport with a close-up view of the Amazon basin.

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Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Release date

This page was originally published on Tuesday, February 24, 2015.
This page was last updated on Tuesday, November 14, 2023 at 12:19 AM EST.


This visualization can be found in the following series:


This visualization originally appeared on the following tapes:
  • Saharan Dust Travels To The Amazon Rainforest (ID: 2015021)
    Monday, February 23, 2015 at 5:00AM
    Produced by - Liam Krauss (Hughes STX)