Chemical characterization of atmospheric dust from a weekly time series in the north Red Sea between 2006 and 2010

Adi Torfstein, Nadya Teutsch, Ofir Tirosh, Yeala Shaked, Tanya Rivlin, Assaf Zipori, Mordechai Stein, Boaz Lazar, Yigal Erel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Atmospheric dust loads and chemical compositions serve as a key link between global climate patterns and marine biogeochemical cycles. The primary source of atmospheric dust in the world today is the Sahara-Arabian desert belt. Although this source was also active during the Quaternary, the interpretation of paleo-dust records and their effects on marine ecosystems is complicated by the scarcely reported atmospheric load patterns of bioavailable phases (i.e., water and acid leachable phases) and present-day contamination of anthropogenic components. This study reports a multi-annual time series of atmospheric dust loads (2006–2016) and their chemical compositions (2006–2010) collected in the north Gulf of Aqaba (north Red Sea) at a weekly to bi-weekly resolution. Major and trace element abundances in each sample are reported for three fractions: water-soluble salts, carbonates and oxides (weak acid leach), and Al-silicates. Dust loads vary seasonally from low values in late summer (∼20–30 μg m−3) to higher values in the fall, and highest values in late winter and early spring (∼150–250 μg m−3). Major and trace element abundances allow to distinguish between the sources and chemical compositions that dominate high and low dust loads in each season. The water leachable fraction (L0) is relatively enriched in Na, Ca, K and Mg, the acid-leachable fraction (L1) is enriched in Ca as well as Na, Al, Mg, Zn, Cd and Pb, and the silicate residue (L2) in Al and Fe. High dust loads occurring mainly during winter and spring months are characterized by low Mg/Ca (L1, L2), low K/Al and Na/Al (L1) and high Ca/Al (L1), high Mg/Al (L2) and relatively un-weathered (L2) contents. High dust load intervals during winter months are characterized by low passing air masses originating from the Sahara, while the ambient winter dust (low dust load) is associated with proximal source regions from the East Sahara and Arabian Peninsula. During late winter and spring months, high dust loads originate from central and west Sahara and to a lesser extent from north Sahara. Low dust loads characterize the summer with limited compositional variability relative to winter-spring months. Summer dust is generally characterized by high K/Al (L1) ratios relative to late winter and spring. It is also relatively high in anthropogenic trace elements in the L0 and L1 fractions (e.g., Zn/Al, Pb/Al, Cr/Al, Ni/Al and V/Al), whereby back trajectories indicate the source of these components is primarily from south and east Europe. The total load (ng m−3) of anthropogenic trace elements however, remains higher during winter and spring, stemming from the overall significantly higher dust loads characterizing this time window. The temporal load patterns of important micronutrients such as Fe, Cd, Zn, Cu, Ni and others in the bio-available phases (L0, L1) are not correlated with major nutrients or Chlorophyll-a sea surface concentrations, suggesting that the atmospheric dust plays a limited role in driving primary productivity in the oligotrophic surface waters of the Gulf of Aqaba. On a wider scale, the results provide unique chemical fingerprinting of Sahara-Arabian dust that can be applied to reconstruct past trends in dust loads recorded in deep-sea cores and other geological archives from this and other regions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-393
Number of pages21
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - 15 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd


  • Atmospheric dust
  • Major and trace elements
  • Red Sea
  • Time series

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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