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Gene Shinn from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)'s St. Petersburg Science Center in St. Petersburg, FL, presented a lecture entitled "Our Pink Sunsets Are Caused by African Dust: Are the Microbes It Delivers Affecting Your Health?" to the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College (ASPEC) in St. Petersburg.
ASPEC had asked Gene to participate in its Public Forum Series on November 5. The lecture allowed Gene to combine his two areas of expertise: coral reefs and African dust. Approximately 100 ASPEC members, Eckerd College students, and members of the general public attended the forum to learn about the global effects of African dust.
Influxes of airborne African dust periodically affect the Caribbean and Eastern United States. The audience was fascinated to learn that researchers believe bacteria and other microbes can endure the 5- to 7-day journey from Africa in a dust cloud and that as much as 30 percent of the microbes identified in dust samples are opportunistic pathogens. Several audience members recalled professors having taught that radiation would kill everything found in dust clouds.
On the plus side, the dust provides essential nutrients to the upper canopy of the Amazon rain forest and contributes to the formation of red soils, known as pineapple loam, used for agriculture in the Bahamas.
The audience was stunned by how unaware they were of the importance of African dust. Many people were interested in possible connections between African dust and other well-known events, such as the foot-and-mouth-disease outbreak in England, diseases killing coral reefs, and increasing occurrences of asthma.
Gene hopes someday to track African dust clouds in an airplane. The presentation ended with a round of applause, intriguing questions, and a picture of a beautiful pink sunset with palm fronds blowing in the breeze.
in this issue: Seamount Environments off California
Pink Sunsets Caused by African Dust
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