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Images: Dust Busters for the Oceans

An intense dust storm sent a massive plume of dust from the Saharan Desert northwestward over the Atlantic Ocean on March 2, 2003. In this true-color scene, acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA?s Terra satellite, the thick dust plume (light brown) can be seen blowing westward and then routed northward by strong southerly winds. The plume extends more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers), covering a vast swath of ocean extending from the Cape Verde Islands (lower left), off the coast of Senegal, to the Canary Islands (top center) off the coast of Morocco. (Image courtesy of Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC)

WHOI scientists and engineers designed a device, mounted atop a moored buoy, that collects wind-blown particles in the open ocean. The researchers are investigating how iron and other essential minerals get into the open ocean to fuel blooms of marine life. (Courtesy of Ed Sholkovitz, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Dust storms sweep iron-rich particles (mineral aerosols) from the continents into the atmosphere. They fall into, or are rained into, the oceans, where iron dissolves into a form that is used, along with other nutrients such as nitrate (N) and phosphate (P), by phytoplankton and bacteria to live and grow. Small marine animals (zooplankton) eat phytoplankton and bacteria. When they excrete fecal pellets or die, organic matter is transferred to the depths. (Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)