Earth’s Aerosols

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The motions of Earth’s atmosphere move more than just air and moisture. As seen in this animation built from NASA satellite data, the atmosphere also transports large amounts of small solid particles, or aerosols, such as dust. Each year the wind carries millions of tons of Saharan dust across the Atlantic, depositing much of it in the Amazon basin. This provides much needed nutrients like phosphorus to plants and animals in the Amazon; check out this video from the Brain Scoop to see what happens in areas that don’t receive these nutrients. Dust is only one of many sources for atmospheric aerosols, though. Sea salt, volcanic eruptions, and pollution are others. All of these aerosols serve as potential nucleation sites for raindrops or snowflakes, and their transport all around the globe by atmospheric winds means that seemingly local effects–like a regional drought or increased pollution in developing countries–can have global effects. (Video credit: NASA Goddard; submitted by entropy-perturbation)

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