Abstract Between 1 and 3% of the rare earth elements in a marine aerosol of Saharan origin were dissolved into surface seawater in a laboratory experiment. The REEs appear to fall into the category of those predominantly associated with the mineral aerosol (e.g. Al, Si and Fe). The intermediate rare earths (Eu-Er) showed slightly greater solubility than light- and heavy-rare earths which may reflect release of REEs from aerosol mineral coatings. Extrapolation to a global budget suggests that dissolved atmospheric input is equivalent to about 30–130% of rare earth element input to the oceans by rivers.