Extraordinary Stories

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

The "Saharan Dusting" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Standing on the beach with Don, a friend I met a few years ago on the island of St. Martin.  We are looking west from the beach at Club Orient towards the island of St. Barts.  On a clear day you can see the outline of St. Barts off in the distance, but today we see nothing.  
The hazy sky can be seen in this photo taken from the
deck of the villa that Carol are renting in St. Martin.
Don told me that the air is filled with Sahara dust making it hard to see any island that may be close to St. Martin.  Now, the Saraha Desert is over 5,600 miles from St. Martin, but that doesn't seem to matter. The Sahara is the major source on Earth of dust known as mineral dust.  The Sarahan dust can be lifted by convection over hot desert areas which takes it to very high altitudes where it is transported worldwide by winds which can cover thousands of miles.  The mineral dust consists mainly of oxides and carbonates that constitute the Earth's crust.  It is estimated that global mineral dust emissions number one to two million tons per year, coming mostly from deserts and is a major source of nutrients for aquatic organisms.   The Saraha Desert spreads its dust across the Mediterranean and Caribbean into northern South America, Central America, North America and Europe mostly in the summer months.  The Saraha also plays an important role in the nutrient inflow to the Amazon rainforest.  
Dust plumes can be seen in this meteorological photo.
The cloudy conditions Don and I see in the distance can cause a variety of medical problems which include pediatric asthma attacks in the Caribbean.  I mentioned to Don that Carol noticed her eyes watering quite a bit while sitting on the beach the last day or two.  It is known that the dust causes a chilling effect which drops the sea surface temperatures and in turn causes fewer hurricanes.  Then Don mentioned that another friend he met on the beach said that a few years ago their return plane trip from St. Martin to France had to make an emergency landing in Puerto Rico due to the Sahara dust.  The dust was creating a problem for the jet engines and the plane they were flying in had to drop quite a bit of jet fuel into the ocean in order to safely land in Puerto Rico to have their engines checked.  Back in 2010 I can remember sitting on the beach in St. Martin and feeling something falling from the sky onto our skin.  Questioned one of the beach vendors and they said it was from the eruption of the volcano on the island of Montserrat which is over 100 miles from St. Martin.  Funny how dust and ash from a desert or volcano can travel such long distances and even stranger that it affects you and your health.  Nature operates in mysterious ways.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

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