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Student Scientists Investigating How Ash From Wildfires Is Affecting Marine Life

SANTA BARBARA (CBSLA)  --   The smoke and ash has made it harder to breathe all over the Southland.

The property damage to homes and structures has been staggering.

The air quality and property damage are easily measured. We can see it.

But what is happening to the marine life that is taking in all that ash falling into the sea?

A research ship out of  UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography named Sally Ride  -- after the first American woman in space --  waded Sunday into the  Santa Barbara Channel.

Researchers will study the ash falling into the ocean from the Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

They believe the ash is raising the risk of polluting the fish we eat and sending even more toxins into the air.

"Something like this impacts our lives," said Bruce Applegate, head of the research mission.

The Sally Ride is currently off the waters  of Santa Barbara.

Bruce Applegate who is heading up the mission spoke to KCAL9's Brittney Hopper from San Diego via Skype.

"Whenever you take a breath, 80 percent of the oxygen you breathe is produced in the oceans so we should care very much about the health of our ocean ecosystems because that's where the air that we breathe comes from." Applegate says.

The Santa Barbara channel is considered one of the most vibrant and robust marine ecosystems on Earth. And it's right in our backyard.

During this expedition 20 students from UC Santa Barbara will be taking samples to see if the ash from the Thomas fire is first affecting phytoplankton, and then whether the ash is impacting other marine life higher up the food chain.

"You know the Santa Anas [winds] are very much apart of our lives and the wildfires that go along with it blowing ash and smoke over the oceans, I think it's important for us to understand how that impacts the oceans as part of our overall understanding of our oceans ecosystem."

Results from the study could take months.


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