The global transport of dust

American Scientist
By: , and 



By some estimates as much as two billion metric tons of dust are lifted into the Earth's atmosphere every year. Most of this dust is stirred up by storms, the more dramatic of which are aptly named dust storms. But more than mere dirt is carried aloft. Drifting with the suspended dust particles are soil pollutants such as herbicides and pesticides and a significant number of microorganisms-bacteria, viruses and fungi. We can gain some appreciation of how much microbial life is actually floating in our atmosphere by performing a quick calculation. There are typically about one million bacteria per gram of soil, but let's be conservative and suppose there are only 10,000 bacteria per gram of airborne sediment. Assuming a modest one billion metric tons of sediment in the atmosphere, these numbers translate into a quintillion (1018) sediment-borne bacteria moving around the planet each year-enough to form a microbial bridge between Earth and Jupiter. Here we consider what we've learned about the airborne transport of sediment across the globe, and review some of the remarkable studies in this reemerging field that had it origins more than 100 years ago.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The global transport of dust
Series title American Scientist
DOI 10.1511/2002.3.228
Volume 90
Issue 3
Year Published 2002
Language English
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title American Scientist
First page 228
Last page 235
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