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Particles of dust from the Sahara Desert are responsible for the cotton candy-like skies recently seen in South Florida. Yet the wind bringing these particles may be bringing something else — red tide. 

So how is the dust responsible for such beauty also responsible for harmful algal blooms? 

Reacting to iron from the dust, Trichodesmium – also known as sea sawdust – turns atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium feeding organisms such as Karenia brevis, also known as red tide.

While scientists have understood the relationship between these two for years ago, Dr. Stephen Leatherman, professor in the Department of Earth and Environment, believes there is still research to conduct. 

“I think we should get some in the marine lab and test it,” Leatherman said. “We’re not sure, there’s speculation but we need real science behind it.” 

Until scientists find more answers, locals can enjoy the beautiful skies and wait to see what it means for red tides this year. 

This article first appeared in the Bradenton Herald on Aug. 10, 2019.