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Wildfires in Australia caused an explosion of sea life thousands of miles away

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Smoke rising from wildfires on the eastern coast of Australia in late 2019. New research finds that iron in smoke from these fires likely helped fuel an explosion of algae in oceans thousands of miles away. Two years ago, in the southern Pacific Ocean, an explosion of algae grew to more than 2,000 miles wide — about the width of Australia.

Giant algal blooms are often tied to land pollution such as runoff from farmland, which is full of nutrients like nitrogen that these plant-like organisms need to thrive. But there were no nearby farms or factories here in the middle of the ocean.

The sprawling bloom was fueled instead by something faraway and unexpected: wildfires thousands of miles to the west.

In a landmark new study published in the journal Nature , researchers conclude that smoke rising from Australia’s historic 2019 wildfires drifted out to sea and fertilized vast communities of algae. The smoke, which contained the nutrient iron, gave rise to algal blooms that were together larger than Australia, the authors write.

“We know that these fires have catastrophic impacts on local ecosystems,” said Nicolas Cassar, a study co-author and professor of biogeochemistry at Duke University. But by spreading nutrients, he […]

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