Geochemical and isotopic characterization of the Bodélé Depression dust source and implications for transatlantic dust transport to the Amazon Basin

Abouchami, Wafa; Näthe, Kerstin; Kumar, Ashwini; Galer, Stephen J. G; Jochum, Klaus Peter; Williams, Earle; Horbe, Adriana M. C.; Rosa, João W. C.; Balsam, William; Adams, David; Mezger, Klaus; Andreae, Meinrat O. (2013). Geochemical and isotopic characterization of the Bodélé Depression dust source and implications for transatlantic dust transport to the Amazon Basin. Earth and planetary science letters, 380, pp. 112-123. Elsevier 10.1016/j.epsl.2013.08.028

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The Bodélé Depression (Chad) in the central Sahara/Sahel region of Northern Africa is the most important source of mineral dust to the atmosphere globally. The Bodélé Depression is purportedly the largest source of Saharan dust reaching the Amazon Basin by transatlantic transport. Here, we have undertaken a comprehensive study of surface sediments from the Bodélé Depression and dust deposits (Chad, Niger) in order to characterize geochemically and isotopically (Sr, Nd and Pb isotopes) this dust source, and evaluate its importance in present and past African dust records. We similarly analyzed sedimentary deposits from the Amazonian lowlands in order to assess postulated accumulation of African mineral dust in the Amazon Basin, as well as its possible impact in fertilizing the Amazon rainforest.

Our results identify distinct sources of different ages and provenance in the Bodélé Depression versus the Amazon Basin, effectively ruling out an origin for the Amazonian deposits, such as the Belterra Clay Layer, by long-term deposition of Bodélé Depression material. Similarly, no evidence for contributions from other potential source areas is provided by existing isotope data (Sr, Nd) on Saharan dusts. Instead, the composition of these Amazonian deposits is entirely consistent with derivation from in-situ weathering and erosion of the Precambrian Amazonian craton, with little, if any, Andean contribution. In the Amazon Basin, the mass accumulation rate of eolian dust is only around one-third of the vertical erosion rate in shield areas, suggesting that Saharan dust is “consumed” by tropical weathering, contributing nutrients and stimulating plant growth, but never accumulates as such in the Amazon Basin.

The chemical and isotope compositions found in the Bodélé Depression are varied at the local scale, and have contrasting signatures in the “silica-rich” dry lake-bed sediments and in the “calcium-rich” mixed diatomites and surrounding sand material. This unexpected finding implies that the Bodélé Depression material is not “pre-mixed” at the source to provide a homogeneous source of dust. Rather, different isotope signatures can be emitted depending on subtle vagaries of dust-producing events. Our characterization of the Bodélé Depression components indicate that the Bodélé “calcium-rich” component, identified here, is most likely released via eolian processes of sand grain saltation and abrasion and may be significant in the overall global budget of dusts carried out by the Harmattan low-level jet during the winter.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences > Isotope Geology

UniBE Contributor:

Mezger, Klaus


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology








Klaus Mezger

Date Deposited:

18 Jun 2014 11:37

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:31

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Bodélé Depression, Amazon Basin, Belterra Clay, radiogenic isotopes, Harmattan, dust transport




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