Published On: Wed, Jun 24th, 2015

Unhealthy Saharan dust blankets the Caribbean

sahara-imageWILLEMSTAD - In addition to heat, the orientation of Atlantic High is causing winds to transport dry, dusty and unhealthy air from the Sahara Desert, in Africa, to the Caribbean.

The dust mainly reaches the Caribbean during the hurricane season, transported often times by tropical waves. However, it is not uncommon for it to reach the region at other times.

The dust is a major health concern. Research has shown that the dust causes asthmatic flare ups and other respiratory complaints. The impact of the dust on health is said to be caused mainly by the bacterial and fungal spores it contains.

Of much graver concern to health professionals is the fact that the dust also contains chemicals such as pesticides and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are known to be very harmful to human health.

Research has also shown that the dust may be harmful to coral reefs. According to retired geologist Gene Shinn, “Our hypothesis is that much of the coral reef decline in the Caribbean is a result of pathogens transported in dust from North Africa”.

The dust has also been credited for algae blooms in a phenomenon called “red tide”. This sought of bloom has been responsible for the death of millions of fish and other marine life, in the past.

The Saharan dust is not all bad. In addition to being a hurricane blocker, it is good for the environment. The dust is rich in plant nutrients and is believed to be largely responsible for the fertility of the Amazon Rainforest.

This air is notorious for “stifling” shower activity and in the past has triggered or exacerbated droughts in the region and further afield. It’s also a hurricane blocker – it hinders or weakens tropical cyclones (depressions, storms and hurricanes).

Depending on the amount of dust, the reflection and refraction caused can result in magnificent sunsets.

The dust is not predictable beyond days; thus, its impact on the hurricane season is unknown. However, once present, it could combine with El Nino to produce a very quiet hurricane season. Additionally, it could combine with El Nino to cause well below normal rainfall for the Caribbean.

So the Saharan dust is not a simple matter; it not only causes hazy skies, but among other things, causes disease. It would be wise to take as much precaution, as possible, to avoid inhaling it.

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