Could Wildfire Ash Feed the Ocean’s Tiniest Life-Forms?

The Thomas Fire was the biggest wildfire California had ever experienced—at the time. It burned over 280,000 acres and destroyed more than a thousand structures in the final month of 2017. It painted the sky orange and brown, streaking across NASA’s satellite images of the state’s central and southern coast.
“Everyone was wearing masks because all this ash was falling.”Tanika Ladd, a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, was on campus as the fires raged. “We were walking around town, and everyone was wearing masks because all this ash was falling,” she said.
Ladd wondered how the ash might mingle with marine life offshore. So after a colleague collected fallen ash from the fire off car windows, she took the samples to the lab to find out. The tests suggest that nutrients leeched from the ash could spur phytoplankton growth, particularly during times of the year when the ocean is short on nutrients. The preliminary research is another step in…

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