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Climate and Environment

New Research Shows Coastal Waters Affected By Wildfires

A narrow body of wetlands water is surrounded by green plant life.
A fire-damaged Pacific Coast sign remains standing along the Pacific Coast Highway amid the blackened and charred hills from the Woolsey Fire in Malibu, California on November 15, 2018. - Much of the area remain under evacuation one week after the Woolsey Fire started.
(Frederic J. Brown
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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The destruction from wildfires is widespread and has long-lasting implications, but new research reveals more about how the damage affects coastal waters.

On top of decimating vegetation, wildfires scorch soil, and runoff from burned areas can carry vast amounts of contaminants, which is what scientists found while studying ocean water quality after the 2018 Woolsey Fire. Huge sediment plumes along with high levels of fecal bacteria lingered along the Malibu coastline for months.

Christine Lee with NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, one of the study's authors, says her team paid close attention to those microbes, "because they're used as an indication of whether there might be other unhealthy things in the environment."

She added that they didn't identify the sources of that fecal matter, but some of it may have come from animals. Researchers plan to dive deeper into the data to answer how wildfire runoff may impact coastal ecosystems.

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Lee and her team are especially concerned about how it affects underwater kelp forests, which are declining along the California coast.

What questions do you have about Southern California?