A dust storm over the Persian Gulf. Image via NASA Earth Observatory
On land, a fierce dust storm blots out any sign of life. But offshore, these banes of desert-dwellers' existence can be providers of life in what might otherwise be empty waters, according to an Arab biologist who believes he's solved the mystery of why the Persian Gulf has such a surprisingly productive marine ecosystem.Also known as the Arabian Gulf, the body of water is known to be biologically productive, "but no one knew where the nutrients necessary for this came from," Dr. Waleed Hamza of UAE University told the newspaper The National. He believes dust storms are the key way that vital nutrients get from the land into the sea. As the paper explains:
Usually, seas that are biologically fertile depend on nutrients arriving from land, carried there by rivers or by rain. The nutrients are needed for the growth of bacteria and algae -- which in turn are the basis of the marine food chain. The Arabian Gulf, however, receives very little fresh water from rivers and there is hardly any rain.
"We found out that this dust is enriching the Arabian Gulf with a lot of iron, phosphorus, and nitrogen," said Dr. Hamza, who is the head of UAE University's biology department.
But there is such thing as too much of a good thing. Extra-high levels of "dust fertilization" -- likely connected with increased desertification and erosion -- caused a large bloom of marine algae in 2008, according to research conducted by Dr. Faiza al Yamani from the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research. This "red tide" disrupted the local fishing industry and the working of desalination plants for more than half a year.
More about dust and the environment:
Focus on Focus Earth: Dust Storms Strike the Southwest
Huge Dust Storm Feeds Fish and Eats Carbon Dioxide
In Australia, Drying Lakes Means Acidic Dust, Potential Health Threats, and Major Bioremediation Efforts
Just Like the 'Dirty Thirties' - Oklahoma Is Dusting Up
Natural Iron Fertilization: Sahara Dust Storms Stimulate Huge Plankton Blooms