Widespread phytoplankton blooms triggered by 2019–2020 Australian wildfires

Type Article
Date 2021-09
Language English
Author(s) Tang Weiyi1, Llort JoanORCID2, 3, Weis JakobORCID2, 4, Perron Morgane M. G.2, Basart SaraORCID3, Li Zuchuan1, 5, Sathyendranath ShubhaORCID6, Jackson Thomas6, Sanz Rodriguez Estrella7, Proemse Bernadette C.2, Bowie Andrew R.ORCID2, 8, Schallenberg Christina2, 8, Strutton Peter G.2, 4, Matear RichardORCID9, Cassar NicolasORCID1, 10
Affiliation(s) 1 : Division of Earth and Climate Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
2 : Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
3 : Barcelona Supercomputing Centre, Barcelona, Spain
4 : Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
5 : Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, USA
6 : Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth, UK
7 : Australian Centre for Research on Separation Science (ACROSS), School of Natural Sciences, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
8 : Australian Antarctic Program Partnership, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
9 : CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
10 : CNRS, Univ Brest, IRD, Ifremer, LEMAR, Plouzané, France
Source Nature (0028-0836) (Springer Science and Business Media LLC), 2021-09 , Vol. 597 , N. 7876 , P. 370-375
DOI 10.1038/s41586-021-03805-8
WOS© Times Cited 48

Droughts and climate-change-driven warming are leading to more frequent and intense wildfires1,2,3, arguably contributing to the severe 2019–2020 Australian wildfires4. The environmental and ecological impacts of the fires include loss of habitats and the emission of substantial amounts of atmospheric aerosols5,6,7. Aerosol emissions from wildfires can lead to the atmospheric transport of macronutrients and bio-essential trace metals such as nitrogen and iron, respectively8,9,10. It has been suggested that the oceanic deposition of wildfire aerosols can relieve nutrient limitations and, consequently, enhance marine productivity11,12, but direct observations are lacking. Here we use satellite and autonomous biogeochemical Argo float data to evaluate the effect of 2019–2020 Australian wildfire aerosol deposition on phytoplankton productivity. We find anomalously widespread phytoplankton blooms from December 2019 to March 2020 in the Southern Ocean downwind of Australia. Aerosol samples originating from the Australian wildfires contained a high iron content and atmospheric trajectories show that these aerosols were likely to be transported to the bloom regions, suggesting that the blooms resulted from the fertilization of the iron-limited waters of the Southern Ocean. Climate models project more frequent and severe wildfires in many regions1,2,3. A greater appreciation of the links between wildfires, pyrogenic aerosols13, nutrient cycling and marine photosynthesis could improve our understanding of the contemporary and glacial–interglacial cycling of atmospheric CO2 and the global climate system.

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Tang Weiyi, Llort Joan, Weis Jakob, Perron Morgane M. G., Basart Sara, Li Zuchuan, Sathyendranath Shubha, Jackson Thomas, Sanz Rodriguez Estrella, Proemse Bernadette C., Bowie Andrew R., Schallenberg Christina, Strutton Peter G., Matear Richard, Cassar Nicolas (2021). Widespread phytoplankton blooms triggered by 2019–2020 Australian wildfires. Nature, 597(7876), 370-375. Publisher's official version : https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03805-8 , Open Access version : https://archimer.ifremer.fr/doc/00723/83476/