Sargassum and the Sahara dust phenomenon — are they connected?

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A look at where the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) was moving across the Atlantic Ocean toward the southern United States on Wednesday, June 24, 2020.

The sargassum on the coast and the Sahara dust in the sky might have a connection. 

The stinky seaweed first sprouted in 2011 in the tropical Atlantic and has been plaguing beaches ever since. Sewage and farmland runoff have been blamed. 

But there’s another possible culprit — Africa’s Sahara dust, which blows over the ocean and brings air pollution along with vivid sunsets to Yucatán and other regions around the Gulf of Mexico. 

Sargassum shows up in Cancun when sea temperatures rise. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Six scientists told the Reuters news agency that they suspect a complex mix of climate change, Amazon rainforest destruction and the desert clouds. 

As the dust particles are blown westward over the Atlantic Ocean, they run into clouds and get rained down as fertilizing iron and phosphorus deposits in the water.

The concept is unproven, but scientists say governments should still act. 

“This phenomenon will continue until there is a change in public policy,” said Carlos Noriega, an oceanographer at Brazil’s Federal University of Pernambuco. 

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