But it's often the case that these connections reach much further than first glance would indicate. The consequences are deeper, sometimes literally. If you asked me a week ago what the consequences of air pollution are for the world's oceans, I would have told you that pollution from the air would add to the pollution of sea water, affecting marine life and water quality, especially at the surface.
But a recently-released study has shown the air pollution that makes it hard for us to breathe also makes it hard for fish to breathe, too. We're not talking about water-quality in the classic, too-many-harmful-chemicals sense, but in a lack of oxygen. Here's the deal: a cloud of pollution off the coast of Asia floats into the Pacific and is carried thousands of miles away by ocean currents. Eventually, the extra iron and nitrogen in the pollution winds up in warm tropical waters where tiny phytoplankton consume it.
In itself, this isn't a bad thing, since when phytoplankton consume these pollutants, it creates oxygen near the surface. But in this case, the plankton eat so much that their excess organic matter sinks into deeper water and is consumed by bacteria. This is the bad part, since the bacteria, with a constant and abundant food source, take oxygen out of the water.
What are the consequences of less oxygen in deep seawater? In a nutshell, the death of marine organisms, including fish. The lack of oxygen creates dead zones in the deep ocean, which affects the hunting habits of larger predators. National Geographic has an informative and alarming read on what's happening to large fish due to these lowering levels of oxygen.
Oceans are losing oxygen—and becoming more hostile to marine life: http://t.co/HUHJbJmdam— National Geographic (@NatGeo) March 13, 2015
The problem here is easy to see, as is identifying the solution: reduce the air pollution that leads to dwindling ocean oxygen levels. But will anything be done to make that happen? This highlights a problem I've been writing about recently, which is that we talk about and hear about pollution, but refrain from doing anything about it. Don't conclude that if you're not running a factory in Asia, then you're off the hook. As the National Geographic article above shows, oxygen depletion in the oceans affects regions off the coast of California, Africa, and the Caribbean.
If you're a factory owner or manager, a maintenance manager, or a safety professional, do what you can do ensure your facility is emitting the lowest possible amount of pollutants. If you're not one of those people, but you know the facility you work in is a source of air pollution, talk to someone who can do something about it. Our oceans depend upon it.