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April 14, 2024

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Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country by area in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country. Wikipedia

Capital: Canberra Trending

Dialing code: +61

Population: 25.69 million (2020) World Bank

Prime minister: Scott Morrison

Currency: Australian dollar

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Scientist compares bloom caused by iron particles in smoke aerosols to ‘the entire Sahara desert turning into a productive grassland’

Smoke from the 2019-20 bushfires in Australia caused a bloom of phytoplankton in the Southern Ocean larger than the entire Australian continent, according to new research.

An international team of scientists discovered via satellite data that the bloom of phytoplankton – microscopic marine algae – occurred in the ocean between South America and New Zealand beginning in October 2019 and lasting about four months.

Smoke clouds from the Australian Black Summer bushfires travelled into the stratosphere and circumnavigated the globe, depositing aerosol particles thousands of kilometres away from Australia.

The study, published in the journal Nature, found the blooms were the result of iron particles in the smoke aerosols.

The study’s co-author Prof Peter Strutton, of the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, likened the phytoplankton bloom to “the entire Sahara desert turning into a moderately productive grassland for a couple of months”.

Phytoplankton requires iron for photosynthesis. “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,” Strutton said.

Phytoplankton blooms are visible from space and occur when there is abundant sunlight and nutrients, leading to an explosion in population. The massive Southern Ocean bloom occurred at a time of year when phytoplankton activity is usually at a minimum.

A satellite image showing long, thin plumes of smoke from bushfires burning in Australia stretching across the Pacific Ocean in January 2020. Photograph: Nasa Earth Observatory handout/EPA

The researchers estimate the amount of carbon taken up by phytoplankton cells as a result of the bloom was equivalent to around 95% of the emissions generated by the 2019-20 bushfires.

For that carbon to be permanently removed from the atmosphere, however, the phytoplankton cells would have to sink into the deep ocean and be stored there, Strutton said.

“There’s a lot of recycling of energy and biomass that happens in the surface waters. It’s likely that a lot of that carbon that was initially taken up might have been re-released to the atmosphere when those phytoplankton cells started to break down or were eaten.”

 

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