Maps, Graphs, and Data

Energy and Matter: Dust Crossing (2015)

Dust Crossing

The Sahara Desert is a near-uninterrupted brown band of sand and scrub across the northern third of Africa. The Amazon rain forest is a dense green mass of humid jungle that covers northeast South America. These two very different ecosystems are connected across the Atlantic Ocean by atmospheric circulation. After strong winds sweep across the Sahara, a cloud of dust rises in the air and stretches between the continents. When the dust settles in the Amazon, it deposits phosphorus, an essential nutrient that acts like a fertilizer. NASA's CALIPSO satellite has quantified in three dimensions how much dust makes this trans-Atlantic journey. The study is part of a bigger research effort to understand the role of dust and aerosols in the environment.

Watch the Video Interview (2015) with visualizer Kel Elkins for a guided walk through of this visualization, starting at 0:54.

Credit: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio and Goddard Space Flight Center

Mini Lesson

  1. Review the following questions with students prior to showing the video so that students are prompted for the content they are to identify.
    1. Where does the dust originate or come from? What is special about the location of where the dust originates?
    2. Where does the dust travel to? What is special about this location?
    3. How does the dust get from one place to the other?
    4. What NASA satellite collects the data?
    5. What is special about the way that the data are collected and displayed by this satellite?
    6. How are the geosphere and the biosphere connected in this example?
  2. Play the video at least once.
  3. If you have enough time, play the Video Interview (2015) with visualizer Kel Elkins for a guided walk through of this visualization, starting at 0:54 and stopping at 1:23.