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Did You know that some of the beach sand in Florida actually comes from the Sahara Desert?

Updated on October 6, 2013
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It's true. African dust has been blowing over the Atlantic Ocean since the ice ages. The summer months in the Earth's Northern Hemisphere allow for incredibly dry air over the Sahara, allowing for Saharan dust to blast up high into the atmosphere and travel incredibly long distances. In this article we'll explore the Sahara Dust event, when and why it happens, and where most of this sand is likely to land. We'll also look into an interesting theory that ties Florida's gulf coast's "Red Tides" to the Sahara Desert!

During the Northern Hemisphere's summer months, almost every day Sahara Desert sand blows up into the atmosphere and out across the ocean, most of which falls on the Caribbean, but some of which makes its way to Miami and even all the way across the Floridian peninsula! In fact, much of the dust in the topsoil of the Caribbean, from many generations of sand and dust storms, can actually be traced directly back to Africa!

The layer of sand and dust that is blasted up into the air is actually known as the "Sahara Air Layer" or SAL. The layer forms in the late Spring, Summer, and early Fall and gets pushed into the Atlantic almost every day.

Real Time Map of The SAL -- Sahara Air Layer
Real Time Map of The SAL -- Sahara Air Layer | Source

The picture above was a snapshot of June 28, 2012. You can find the 5 day real time map of the SAL here. Most of the time, if the dust actually makes its way all the way to Miami, it is barely noticed. The sky may seem a bit "Hazy", and the sunsets might be spectacular, especially filled with the color red. When a significant amount of dust and sand makes its way to Miami and the rest of the Florida coast, it will leave a light coating of reddish-brown dust on your car. The reddish brown colored dust dropped by the Saran Air Layer comes from the large amount of Iron found in the Saharan desert dust.

Red Tides caused from the SAL?


"Red Tide", an algae bloom that kills fish and stinks up the everywhere around the beaches it effects, have been happening quite recently in Florida, and many like to blame man made pollution as the source of the problem. But... Red Tides have been occurring (at least publicly known about) and recorded for at least the last 200 years....

There's a theory by a few scientists that the "Red Tide" may actually be caused by the Sahara Air Layer! You see, Red Tide is actually an algae bloom. An algae bloom that feeds on nitrogen.

As it turns out, Florida has a microorganism called the Trichodesmium. The "Trich" feeds off of Iron in the air, and turns it into nitrogen....plenty of nitrogen to feed Red Tide Algae! "It's like fertilizing your lawn. " says John Walsh, PhD, Distinguished Research Professor, University of South Florida. You can read more about his study HERE. Or for more information visit FloridaEnvironment.com

Basically, his theory is that the more Saharan dust that lands along the Florida coast (east and west), the higher the chances of a RED TIDE event.

More Iron = More Trichs = More Nitrogen in the Ocean = Higher chance of Red Tide event.

And, since Saharan Dust has been blowing over the Atlantic ever since the Ice Ages, it stands as a more reasonable cause of Red Tide than pollution.

The next time your walking along the Florida coast, pick up a handful of sand, and ponder where it actually might have come from. Oh, and FYI - the Sand blows in both directions. In the 1930s sand from the American Dust Bowl blew along the westerlies and made it all the way to London!


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    • Angelo52 profile image

      Angelo52 4 years ago from Central Florida

      I knew this but only because it comes up in conversation both here in Florida and in Puerto Rico. Usually it's a complaint about dust in the air. The algae bloom theory is new to me. Makes sense though since some scientists have experimented by seeding iron particles in ocean waters to watch phytoplankton blooms.

    • howlermunkey profile image
      Author

      Jeff Boettner 4 years ago from Tampa, FL

      Thanks for the great comment Angelo52, I'm Curious about the phytoplankton bloom research now.

    • ashish04joshi profile image

      Ashish Joshi 4 years ago from India

      Interesting hub...didn't know that.

      discovered it while hub hopping.

      'up' and 'interesting'

    • howlermunkey profile image
      Author

      Jeff Boettner 4 years ago from Tampa, FL

      Thanks ashish04joshi! The first time someone told me I didn't believe them, so I looked it up :). Fascinating that they even have real time tracking.

    • profile image

      SusieQ42 4 years ago

      I agree with ashish, this is very interesting. I had no idea! Thanks for sharing!

    • howlermunkey profile image
      Author

      Jeff Boettner 4 years ago from Tampa, FL

      Glad you liked it SusieQ42!

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      What an interesting topic, I did not know this! Vote up and interesting, as well as sharing here and on Facebook

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Very interesting! Next time I'm at the beach I'll be sure and pick up some sand and wonder where it came from. Thanks for creating! Thanks to Christy for sharing, she must have known I'll read it since I'm in Florida.

    • howlermunkey profile image
      Author

      Jeff Boettner 4 years ago from Tampa, FL

      Thanks ChristyWrites! Yep, the first time I heard this story I actually didn't believe it, so I had to look it up. Thanks for sharing it as well :)

    • howlermunkey profile image
      Author

      Jeff Boettner 4 years ago from Tampa, FL

      Thanks Sunshine625! Yep, originally from FL myself, never even knew this until a few years ago.

    • David Warren profile image

      David Warren 4 years ago from Nevada

      Interesting indeed! I had no idea. Was prompted to read your hub as I have a trip to Florida next month.

    • howlermunkey profile image
      Author

      Jeff Boettner 4 years ago from Tampa, FL

      Thanks David! I believe I just heard on the Weather channel yesterday that there was some Saharan sand heading for Florida, and they were talking about the effect on the sunrises, ....very colorful from what they said.

    • profile image

      iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

      Fascinating subject matter you have written about! I have never thought of where the sand comes from as I have walked on Caribbean beaches, on beaches on Lake Ontario, and ocean side on the Atlantic ocean. I have seen that some of them have coral or shells all over them. It is nat to find out that sand is from th Sahara! "Red Tide" is quite interesting. A really great read to start my day!

    • profile image

      iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

      Fascinating subject matter you have written about! I have never thought of where the sand comes from as I have walked on Caribbean beaches, on beaches on Lake Ontario, and ocean side on the Atlantic ocean. I have seen that some of them have coral or shells all over them. It is nat to find out that sand is from th Sahara! "Red Tide" is quite interesting. A really great read to start my day!

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Huh, cool. I didn't realize this, even though I've looked at wind and dust patterns before. Interesting stuff!

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      This hub is really interesting! There are so many things that we could be enthusiastic about .. thanks for sharing!

    • alison monroe profile image

      Alison Monroe 3 years ago

      I love this kind of information! Of course the trichs don't turn iron into nitrogen, that would be alchemy. Do they use the iron to get energy with which to fix atmospheric nitrogen?

    • howlermunkey profile image
      Author

      Jeff Boettner 3 years ago from Tampa, FL

    • alison monroe profile image

      Alison Monroe 3 years ago

      Very cool link! A good use of government money! Thank you Mr Munkey

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