This paper reviews recent work on the role of Saharan dust in environmental change, the location and strength of source areas, the transport paths of material away from the desert, the rates of Saharan dust deposition, the nature of that material (including PeriSaharan loess) and the changing rates of dust activity in response to long and short-term climatic changes. The Sahara produces more aeolian soil dust than any other world desert, and Saharan dust has an important impact on climatic processes, nutrient cycles, soil formation and sediment cycles. These influences spread far beyond Africa, thanks to the great distances over which Saharan dust is transported. The precise locations of Saharan dust source areas are not well known, but data from the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) suggest two major source areas: the Bodélé depression and an area covering eastern Mauritania, western Mali and southern Algeria. Trajectories of long-distance transport are relatively well documented, but the links between source areas and seasonal Saharan dust pathways are not. However, it is possible that Harmattan dust from the Bodélé depression may not be the source of the prominent winter plume over the tropical North Atlantic, as is often suggested in the literature. Few of the data on particle size characteristics of Saharan dust are derived from major source areas or from Africa itself. Saharan dusts sampled from the Harmattan plume and over Europe are dominated by SiO 2 and Al 2O 3, a characteristic they share with North American and Chinese dusts. The concentrations of these two major elements are similar to those found in world rocks. PeriSaharan loess is conspicuous by its relative absence, considering the Sahara's dominance of the global desert dust cycle both in the contemporary era and through the geological past. In recent decades, the frequency of Saharan dust events has varied markedly in response to climatic factors such as drought and anthropogenic disturbance of desert marginal surfaces. Nonetheless, the Sahara's two major dust sources are little affected by human activities and are in fact located in areas that receive very low rainfall totals. Hence, the Sahara does not fit the postulated global picture of a peak in dust storm activity in the 100-200-mm mean annual rainfall zone.