, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 425–435 | Cite as

Science questions and knowledge gaps to study microbial transport and survival in Asian and African dust plumes reaching North America

  • Andrew C. SchuergerEmail author
  • David J. Smith
  • Dale W. Griffin
  • Daniel A. Jaffe
  • Boris Wawrik
  • Susannah M. Burrows
  • Brent C. Christner
  • Cristina Gonzalez-Martin
  • Erin K. Lipp
  • David G. Schmale III
  • Hongbin Yu
Original Paper


The Sahara in North Africa and the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts in Asia are the primary sources of mobilized dust in the atmosphere, with regional or global airborne transport estimated at 2 to 5 billion tonnes per year. Annual Asian dust plumes take about 7 to 10 d to cross the Pacific Ocean, and often reach the northwest USA between late February and May. In contrast, the peak season for the movement of African dust storms to the southeastern USA is typically June to August, and dust plumes take about 5 to 7 d to reach Florida. Although studies have documented that a wide range of bacteria, fungi, archaea, and viruses in dust plumes reach the USA each year, little is known about temporal and spatial variability in the microbial biodiversity in transoceanic dust plumes, or the effect on the deposition environments. A scoping study (called the Transoceanic Aerobiology Biodiversity Study) was conducted to develop field-based campaigns centered on examining the abundance, diversity, survival, and impact of microorganisms in transoceanic dust plumes arriving in the continental USA from Asia and Africa. This effort identified Science Questions (SQs) and Knowledge Gaps (KGs) that are highly relevant toward an understanding of the microbial diversity, transport, survival, and dispersal in transoceanic dusts. Science Questions were defined as broad science topics in transoceanic dust plume microbiology that were underexplored by the aerobiology community. Knowledge Gaps were defined as specific project-level research questions for each SQ that represented important topics in the study of transoceanic aerobiology.


Transoceanic dust Aerobiology Dust transport Asian dust African dust 



We would like to thank the following individuals who provided feedback on the Science Questions and Knowledge Gaps preliminary white paper during an external review cycle in the Spring of 2017: Pierre Amato, Christina Kellogg, Shane Ross, Nobuyasu Yamaguchi, Juan Diaz-Gonzalez, Elena Gonzalez-Toril, Lorraine Remer, Natalie Mahowald, Chris Munday, Peter Convey, Gwynneth Matcher, Byron Adams, David Pearce, Cassandra Gaston, and two anonymous reviewers. We thank Robert Levy and Pawan Gupta of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for helping with processing MODIS aerosol data in Fig. 1. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the US government. The views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the US government and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes.

Authors contribution

The study was initially conceived by AS, DJS, and DG. AS coordinated all aspects of the work, including preparation of the original draft of the manuscript, compiling all editorial suggestions by the coauthors and external reviewers (see Acknowledgments section), and the preparation of the figures. HY assisted in compiling data and creating the graphics in Figs. 1 and 2. All coauthors contributed to the creation and editing of individual Science Questions and Knowledge Gaps through a series of telecons, email exchanges, and two TABS workshops held in Key West, FL (December 2016), and Bend, OR (April 2017).


The project was supported by a scoping study Grant from NASA’s Biodiversity Office (Grant #NNX16AQ38G). Partial support to BC was provided by a National Science Foundation grant from the Division of Environmental Biology (1241161 and 1643288). Partial support to SB was funded by the Earth and Biological Sciences Directorate Program Development Funds at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. DG was partially supported by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Environmental Health Toxic Substances Hydrology and Contaminate Biology Programs.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All coauthors have confirmed via emails to the corresponding author that there were no conflicts of interest in participating in the TABS Scoping Study; the TABS workshops in Key West, FL, and Bend, OR; nor the preparation of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew C. Schuerger
    • 1
    Email author
  • David J. Smith
    • 2
  • Dale W. Griffin
    • 3
  • Daniel A. Jaffe
    • 4
  • Boris Wawrik
    • 5
  • Susannah M. Burrows
    • 6
  • Brent C. Christner
    • 7
  • Cristina Gonzalez-Martin
    • 8
  • Erin K. Lipp
    • 9
  • David G. Schmale III
    • 10
  • Hongbin Yu
    • 11
  1. 1.Department of Plant PathologyUniversity of FloridaMerritt IslandUSA
  2. 2.NASA, Ames Research CenterMoffett FieldUSA
  3. 3.US Geological SurveySt. PetersburgUSA
  4. 4.University of WashingtonBothellUSA
  5. 5.University of OklahomaNormanUSA
  6. 6.Pacific Northwest National LaboratoryRichlandUSA
  7. 7.Department of Microbiology and Cell ScienceUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  8. 8.University of La LagunaSan Cristóbal de La LagunaSpain
  9. 9.University of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  10. 10.Virginia TechBlacksburgUSA
  11. 11.NASA Goddard Space Flight CenterGreenbeltUSA

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