ABU DHABI—Fish stocks in the Arabian Sea feed millions of people, both in the Arab world and beyond, but new research from New York University in Abu Dhabi has revealed the sustainability of these fisheries is looking precarious thanks to climate change.
The research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, shows that much of the productivity in these fisheries is dependent on nutrients in desert dust blown out to sea from the Arabian Peninsula. These nutrients are then used by organisms at the bottom of the food chain, which the fish feed on.
The scientists behind the work also say that it’s a finely tuned balance. Should the wind patterns driving this nutrient dump alter—either increasing or decreasing the nutrient concentration—it could drastically reduce the productivity of phytoplankton at the bottom of the food chain and therefore reduce fish catches.
“Turns out dust is really important,” says Zouhair Lachkar, a senior scientist at the Center for Prototype Climate Modeling at New York University in Abu Dhabi. “Who would have thought it. We usually don’t like dust storms here, but they serve a purpose.”
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Lachkar and his colleagues used data such as wind direction to estimate the amount of dust blown into the Arabian Sea. To gauge the productivity of the bottom of the food chain, they combined a number of different types of data including satellite imagery and measures of water salinity, oxygen levels and temperature.