- Although scientists have devoted much study to pollution, for many years they neglected the interrelatedness of natural dust and the atmosphere. Recently they have come to appreciate how dust influences climate and cloud formation—and the fertilization of oceans and rain forests.
- Despite much research, the effect of dust on the atmosphere is complex and poorly understood. Even the best supercomputers running the most sophisticated models do not provide a good picture.
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The Bodele depression at the southern edge of the Sahara is a fearsome, forsaken place. Winds howl through the nearby Tebesti Mountains and Ennedi Plateau, picking up speed as they funnel into a parched wasteland nearly the size of California. Once there was a massive freshwater lake here. Now the lake is a shrunken puddle of its former self. Across most of the landscape, there is nothing.
Or so it would seem. But as the winds sweep the ancient lake bed, which has not been inundated in much of this area for several thousand years, they carry trillions of tiny particles skyward in vast, swirling white clouds. The dust then starts a mysterious journey—or a series of mysterious journeys—that scientists are trying to better understand.
This article was originally published with the title Swept from Africa to the Amazon.