Tourists aren’t the only seasonal visitors to the Caribbean and South Florida. Every summer, dust from the Sahara Desert, aka the Sahara Dust, travels from Africa over the Atlantic Ocean, bringing incredible sunsets and a fair share of asthma attacks.
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What causes the ‘Sahara Dust’ phenomenon?
Hot air rises from the Sahara Desert carrying dust particles and other matter. These dust particles hitch a ride on the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) which carries them over the Atlantic and towards the Caribbean, the Southern US, Central America, and parts of South America. The SAL carries over 60 million tons of dust over 6000 miles from the desert to the Americas.
What months does the ‘Sahara Dust’ phenomenon occur?
The ‘Sahara Dust’ is an annual phenomenon that occurs in the Americas from June to mid-August.
What are the Harmful Effects of ‘Sahara Dust’?
The sudden and excessive concentration of dust in the atmosphere poses a significant risk to the most vulnerable in society. Of particular risk are children under 10, senior citizens, people with underlying lung conditions, and people with chronic cardiopulmonary diseases.
People who suffer from asthma are of highest risk, because excessive dust can exacerbate symptoms, especially on particularly dust-heavy days.
The dust can lead to skin and eye irritation, which may cause allergies and general discomfort. During ‘Saharan Dust’ episodes, there are often increased emergency room visits for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and respiratory infections.
The dust can have adverse effects on the weather, preventing the formation of thunderstorms. Coupled with global warming, the Saharan Dust played a part in the record-hot temperatures the Caribbean and Southern US experienced in July.
How to protect yourself from the harmful effects of ‘Sahara Dust’
Learn how to read the air quality index (AQI).
Consider the AQI as a forecast for air pollution in your area. Local newspapers, radio programs, and weather forecasts report on the AQI and will often contextualize the figures. A quick rule of thumb — any figure above 150 is generally dangerous especially to those already suffering from pre-existing conditions.
Limit time spent outdoors.
Prevention is better than cure. Try to plan around particularly dust-heavy days, prioritizing indoor activities.
No strenuous outdoor activities
If you do have to go outside on a dusty day, keep physical exertion to a minimum. Walk, don’t run. Skip the morning jog, etc. Increased breathing rate increases the amount of dust intake which maximizes harm.
Benefits of the ‘Sahara Dust’
It’s not all doom and gloom and hazy skies, however. There are ecological benefits tied to Saharan dust.
It’s a natural fertilizer.
The dust is rich in iron and phosphorus and acts as a fertilizer revitalizing the soil.
The dust helps to support the food chain.
Microscopic plankton and other marine life chow down on the minerals. These small marine life are then consumed by bigger fish, which are then consumed by bigger animals and ultimately consumed by humans.
The dust in the air causes light to diffuse through a natural filter producing incredible orange and magenta sunsets.