Published on Friday, June 9, 2023
By Victoria Torley
From time to time, in Costa Rica what you are taking delight in the air is filled with Saharan Air Layer (SAL) or just Saharan dust.
Despite the occasional allergic reaction, that’s a good thing because we live in a rainforest environment.
While the Amazon rainforest is the most studied, the rainforests of Costa Rica are beneficiaries of Saharan dust, just like those of the Amazon.
What is Saharan dust? We aren’t talking about just the sandy stuff here, we are talking about the dust from the Bodélé Depression in Chad.
The depression is an ancient lake bed rich in dead microorganisms which are, in turn, rich in phosphorus, an essential element for plant growth. Add to the Bodélé dust the rest of the Saharan dust – rich in silicates, carbonates and iron – and you have the perfect mix for speeding growth in rainforests.
A “perfect storm” of winds sweeping through narrow gaps in mountains lifts the dust in Bodélé and begins it on a journey that will take it six kilometers (about 19,700 feet) into the troposphere and waft it across the Atlantic.
June, July and early August are the months most likely to host this SAL the air that carries the dust.
Why is it so important? Well, our tropical rains wash phosphorus and nitrogen out of the rainforest soil every year. Unless there was a source replenishing those vital nutrients, our rainforests would whither. At present, about 90% of rainforest soil is low in phosphorus which is why we add fertilizer to our garden soil.
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