"There are millions of sources of pollution," he said.
His lab works with African dust collected in Barbados, before it has picked up other contaminants along the route to the United States. Still, he said, the metals in the dust are distinct.
That finding allowed him to determine that a spike in pollution levels in the 2008 readings reflected the arrival of Saharan dust. A paper on those findings has been accepted for publication in in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. In addition to Prospero, his co-authors include Ayse Bozlaker, a post-doctoral researcher working with Chellam, and Matthew Fraser of Arizona State University.
Work by other scientists has linked the dust migration with coral reef stresses and other environmental problems, but the impact on human health is less clear.
Chellam, whose research does not extend into health impact, said he would expect it to affect people with asthma and other respiratory problems.
"But clearly more research is needed," he said. "The composition of the dust is not the same" as other industrial and vehicle dust.
"And if the composition is different, the health impact may be different," he said.
|Contact: Jeannie Kever|
University of Houston