Dust storms can create algal blooms

Posted on May 26, 2009

Following a severe dust storm in October 2002, levels of plant plankton in coastal waters offQueenslandincreased to up to twice the long term average.  Dust storms deliver nutrients such as iron, which encourages the growth of blooms of nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria (blue-green algae).    The fertilizing influence of dust storms is likely to be greatest in the dry season, when the supply of riverborne nutrients is low, and this effect is set to become more common as a result of extended droughts predicted under climate change.

Since iron has been shown to limit phytoplankton growth in lakes, dust storms are no doubt capable of fertilizing freshwater as well as marine systems.


Emily C. Shaw, Albert J. Gabric and Grant H. McTainsh.  2008.  Impacts of aeolian dust deposition on phytoplankton dynamics in Queenslandcoastal waters.  Marine and Freshwater Research 59, 951-962.

Vrede, T. & Tranvik, L. J. 2006.  Iron Constraints on Planktonic Primary Production in Oligotrophic Lakes.  Ecosystems 9, 1094-1105.

Posted in: nutrients, plankton