Sept. 15 (UPI) -- The bush fires that torched Australia in 2019 and 2020 fueled massive algal blooms a few thousand miles away in the Southern Ocean, according to a new study.
Between November 2019 and January 2020, wildfires across Australia burned millions of acres of bushland and forest. The record-setting fires yielded thick, black plumes of smoke that triggered smoke alarms and asthma attacks across New South Wales.
But while wildfire smoke can negatively affect human health -- increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease, in addition to respiratory problems -- it can also carry life-giving nutrients.
According to new research, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, iron transported thousands of miles away by massive, windswept smoke plumes fueled algal blooms in the Southern Ocean.
Researchers found that not long after smoke plumes fertilized algal cells with iron aerosols, growing algal blooms sucked up significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.
"These fires represent an unexpected and previously under-documented impact of climate change on the marine environment, with potential feedbacks on our global climate," co-lead author Weiyi Tang, a postdoctoral fellow in geosciences at Princeton University, said in a press release.
Though the latest research was limited to the Southern Ocean, researchers suggest other regions where upwelling brings oxygen and nutrients to the surface could also be responsive to iron fertilization from wildfires.