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Desert dust sustains life in Arabian Sea, UAE research finds

phytoplankton, Arabian Sea, UAE, New York University Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi - Desert dust becomes necessary to allow phytoplankton to uptake major nutrients.

By Staff Report

Published: Wed 25 Sep 2019, 1:42 PM

Last updated: Wed 25 Sep 2019, 3:56 PM

That desert dust you often find on your car is not all dirt - it actually sustains marine life in the Arabian Sea, according to a new study at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD).
"Dust contains nutrients and these small particles have a very positive impact for microscopic plant-like organisms called phytoplankton that live in the ocean," said Cécile Guieu, a visiting scientist at NYUAD's Centre for Prototype Climate Modeling (CPCM). 
"These organisms are very important for the ocean, and for the people because they play a key role in removing carbon dioxide from the air and they are the base of the marine food chain."
The research found that the atmospheric dust coming from the desert area around the Arabian Sea is rich in iron, which is essential in maintaining high levels of marine productivity, especially during the summer monsoon.
The surface waters of the sea have low concentrations of iron, so desert dust becomes necessary to allow phytoplankton to uptake major nutrients.
The study was led by Guieu, senior research scientist at The Oceanography Laboratory of Villefranche-sur-Mer (LOV), and co-authored by Zouhair Lachkar, senior research scientist at NYUAD's CPCM; Muchamad Al Azhar, post-doctoral associate at NYUAD's CPCM; Olivier Aumont, research scientist at the French Research Institute for Development (IRD) ; Natalie Mahowald, professor at Cornell University's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences; Marina Levy, senior research scientist at the Laboratory of Oceanography and Climate (LOCEAN-IPSL); and Christian Ethé, engineer at LOCEAN-IPSL.
Lachkar commented: "Climate change is expected to affect both land aridity and surface winds in the region. This may lead to important future changes in the intensity of dust input to the Arabian Sea, and hence cause a potentially profound perturbation of its marine ecosystem."
Phytoplankton in the surface layer of the sea rely on two important sources of nutrients to survive, develop, and reproduce.
They get their first source of nutrients from the rich waters from the ocean, while counting on the desert dust deposited from above the surface layer of the ocean as their second source of nutrients.
The study showed that in addition to the nutrient-rich deep waters of the Arabian Sea, dust deposition is equally important for the survival of phytoplankton.
Without the iron from the dust, these organisms would be reduced by half, it added.
Fast facts:
. Desert dust is rich in iron
. It serves as the second source of nutrients for phytoplankton in Arabian Sea
. Without the iron from dust, these organisms would be reduced by half
. Phytoplankton are microscopic plant-like organisms that can remove carbon dioxide from the air and serve as the base of the marine food chain


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