Watch 182 million tons of dust ride the wind out of Africa’s Sahara Desert in 3D, as tracked from 2007 through 2013 by lidar, thanks to CALIPSO, the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation satellite.

Where is this dust traveling to? From the world’s largest desert — it’s “almost the size of the continental United States” — to the largest rainforest on the planet, a portion of the dust fertilizes the Amazon. NASA explains:

An average of 27.7 million tons of dust per year – enough to fill 104,980 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.

Phosphorus is, among other things, a plant food that’s often washed away into the Amazon’s ever-draining streams, rivers, and flooded lands, making this trans-continental dusting — “dust picked up from the Bodélé Depression in Chad, an ancient lake bed where rock minerals composed of dead microorganisms,” for example, — a key process that feeds the rain forest.

How does the amount of nutrient dust change from year to year, and what causes the variations? As our climate changes in the coming decades, how will this effect the dust distribution? Read more about the project at

Related videos include Feedback loops: How nature gets its rhythms, Dead stuff: The secret ingredient in our food chain, wind, dust, deserts, rain forests, and the Overview Effect.

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