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More than half of the dust needed for fertilizing the Brazilian rainforest is supplied by a valley in northern Chad, according to an international research team headed by Dr. Ilan Koren of the Institute’s Environmental Sciences and Energy Research Department. In a study published recently in Environmental Research Letters, the scientists have explained how the Bodele valley’s unique features might be responsible for making it such a major dust provider.
It has been known for more than a decade that the Amazon rainforest depends for its existence on a supply of minerals washed off by rain from the soil in the Sahara and blown across the Atlantic by dust. By combining various types of satellite data, Dr. Koren and colleagues from Israel, the United Kingdom, the United States and Brazil have now for the first time managed to obtain quantitative information about the weight of this dust. Analyses of dust quantities were performed near the Bodele valley itself, on the shore of the Atlantic and at an additional spot above the ocean.
The data revealed that some 56 percent of the dust reaching the Amazon forest originates in the Bodele valley. They also showed that a total of some 50 million tons of dust make their way from Africa to the Amazon region every year, a much higher figure than the previous estimates of 13 million tons. The new estimate matches the calculations on the quantity of dust needed to supply the vital minerals for the continued existence of the Amazon rainforest.
The researchers suggest that the Bodele valley is such an important source of dust due to its shape and geographic features: it is flanked on both sides by enormous basalt mountain ridges, which create a cone-shaped crater with a narrow opening in the north-east. Winds that 'drain' into the valley focus on this funnel-like opening similarly to the way light is focused by an optical lens, creating a large wind tunnel of sorts. As a result, gusts of surface wind that are accelerated and focused in the tunnel lift the dust from the ground and blow it toward the ocean, allowing the Bodele valley to export the vast amount of dust that makes a life-sustaining contribution to the Amazon rainforest.
Dr. Ilan Koren’s research is supported by the Samuel M. Soref and Helene K. Soref Foundation; and the Sussman Family Center for the Study of Environmental Sciences.
The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is one of the world's top-ranking multidisciplinary research institutions. Noted for its wide-ranging exploration of the natural and exact sciences, the Institute is home to 2,500 scientists, students, technicians and supporting staff. Institute research efforts include the search for new ways of fighting disease and hunger, examining leading questions in mathematics and computer science, probing the physics of matter and the universe, creating novel materials and developing new strategies for protecting the environment.