Smoke from the 2019-2020 bushfires in Australia has caused a massive phytoplankton bloom in the Southern Ocean.

A study showed that the bloom was caused by iron particles in the smoke aerosols, as phytoplankton require iron for photosynthesis.

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The study’s co-author Prof Peter Strutton, of the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, said, “The entire Southern Ocean is basically low in iron because it’s a long way from dust sources, so any small amount of iron that gets deposited there can cause a strong response.”

Researchers have long thought that aerosols could have an impact on the growth of phytoplankton. This study has further confirmed their theories. 

Strutton said, “The team did not look specifically at the wider marine ecosystem effects of the large Southern Ocean bloom, but the moderate increase in phytoplankton activity over several months could also have had an impact on fish populations.”

Only time will tell just how this bloom will affect the Southern Ocean and the species within it. Unfortunately, there is always a risk that it could throw off the natural balance.

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