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FGCU professor and researcher break down environmental impacts of the Saharan Dust Storm

Posted at 11:05 PM, Jun 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-28 23:06:00-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — Earlier this week the Saharan Dust Storm started it’s 5,000-mile journey across the Atlantic Ocean, leaving hazy skies and poor air quality on its trail blowing dust in the upper atmosphere here in Florida.

Thomas Missimer with Florida Gulf Coast University says there's a lot we need to understand about this phenomenon.

“Simply because winds are changing, with climate change, there is a little bit more velocity in the upper atmosphere. So we’re pickup up more material in Africa, to clean arid areas and transport them across the Atlantic” said Thomas Missimer, Director of the Emergent Technologies Institute, FGCU.

Missimer says the color and hazy skies are due in fact to tiny particles.

“Iron, some very very small clay minerals, phosphate, and a number of other things, that give its color. The color is sort of reddish because of the iron” said Missimer.

Adding the Saharan dust has both a positive and a negative effect on our environment.

“It actually kills hurricanes because of its interactions with the tops of clouds, so that’s a good thing. The bad thing is that it actually can lead to air pollution to some degree, but it’s generally not harmful” said Missimer.

Missimer and his team at FGCU are studying how dust storms like this can affect Southwest Florida's environment specifically, including the not so popular natural occurrences like red tide and algae bloom.

“We’ve seen certain levels of phosphorus in the rainfall here, but what we’re going to be particularly looking at is iron and dust fall, because the combination of iron and some nitrogen compounds can cause algae blooms along with other types of conditions,” said Missimer.

Missimer told me if you have allergies or other breathing-related problems, it’s best to stay inside but if you must go out, wear a mask, and be sure to take some over the counter medications if you’re feeling a bit ill.