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Pink Sunsets in Florida Caused by African Dust

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sunset photograph

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.

Related Web Sites
Coral Mortality and African Dust
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

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in this issue: Fieldwork Seamount Environments off California

Sediment Transport off South Carolina

Sea Floor off Massachusetts

Research cover story:
Snowy Plover Population Recovery

Ecological Repercussions of Mosquito Control

Outreach St. Petersburg Open House

Pink Sunsets Caused by African Dust

GIS Day: University of South Florida

GIS Day: Woods Hole

Students Visit Woods Hole Scientists

Great American Teach-In: Tampa Bay

Meetings Sustainable Beaches Summit

Mid-Atlantic Offshore Sand Resources

Awards Regional Science Excellence Award

AAPG Award for Presentation Excellence

Staff & Center News Birthday Surprise

Parke Snavely Passes Away

Parke Snavely: The Journey of the Model A

Parke Snavely: Tribute by Terry Bruns

Parke Snavely: Tribute by David Scholl

Publications New Map of Hawai'i Sea Floor

USGS Coral Photograph on GSA Bulletin Cover

Dec. / Jan. Publications List U. S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Sound Waves Monthly Newsletter

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