The way in which human-made acids in the atmosphere interact with the dust that nourishes our oceans has been quantified by scientists for the first time. In the international study led by the University of Leeds, researchers have pinpointed how much phosphate "fertiliser" is released from dust depending on atmospheric acid levels. Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for all life, and when it falls into the ocean, it acts as a fertiliser that stimulates the growth of phytoplankton and marine life.

The new study allows scientists to quantify exactly how much phosphate "fertiliser" is released from dust depending on atmospheric acid levels.Dr. Anthony Stockdale, from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, is lead author of the study. He said: "The ability to quantify these processes will now allow models to predict how pollution on a global scale modulates the amount of fertiliser released in airborne dust before it falls into the oceans.

"Many regions of the globe are limited by the amount of phosphorus available, so pollution can have a very important impact on marine ecosystems." Fellow author Michael Krom, an Emeritus Professor from Leeds who is now at the University of Haifa, added: "If more carbon dioxide is taken up by marine plants due to fertilisation from acidified dust, it is possible that air pollution may have been inadvertently reducing the amount of greenhouse gases, while at the same time increasing the amount of plants and even fish in areas such as the Mediterranean Sea."

Co-author Professor Athanasios Nenes, of Georgia Institute of Technology, said the implications went beyond the carbon cycle and climate.

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