It is difficult to think of a place on Earth where the air has yet to be contaminated by human activity. From metropolises like New York and large cities like Mumbai to even small villages, human activity has affected the natural air we breathe. However, a recent publication from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that there is still one place on Earth with “pristine” air.
The Southern Ocean, an area south of 40 degrees latitude, has been identified as one place on Earth where the air has not been contaminated. According to the publication, scientists have established that the air in this region is dominated by bacteria emitted in sea spray. Researchers used this bacteria as a “diagnostic tool” in the study. Essentially, findings from this study show that the air of the Southern Ocean is free of aerosols resulting from human activities. This makes the Southern Ocean one of the rare places where you can breathe pristine air.
The study leading to this discovery was conducted by Colorado State University and used data collected by R/V Investigator, an Australian research ship. The R/V Investigator is operated by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency. In sampling the air, the R/V team collected samples from the marine boundary, which is in direct contact with the ocean water. The exercise mainly included collecting airborne microbes and analyzing them with source tracking, DNA sequencing and wind back trajectories to establish their marine origins.
According to Colorado State University Scientists, the results of the samples from the Southern Ocean were very different from those in subtropical and Northern Hemisphere oceans. In those waters, the air quality is largely influenced by anthropogenic aerosols from the Northern Hemisphere.
As the R/V team found, the process of sampling the air over the Southern Ocean can be difficult. The air was so clear that the team had little DNA to work with. Given that the sampling process included DNA tracking, the team struggled to collect the data needed to conclude the study.
The news of fresh air existing on a planet dominated by human activity is good news for all humanity. It shows us that there is hope in our conservation efforts. Even though human activities are causing harm to the environment, some gains can be attained if we keep pushing for a better environment.
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