Scientists found the cleanest air on Earth


You might think that stepping out of your front door every morning and swallowing a couple of lungfuls of fresh morning air is just about as good as it can get — especially during the pandemic. Sure, it’s refreshing, but according to scientists from Colorado State University, the cleanest air on Earth is nowhere near your house or any area where humans have settled down.

The research, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that the Southern Ocean around Antarctica is really where it’s at if you want some seriously fresh air. Thanks to some quirks of the global climate and weather patterns, the clouds over the Southern Ocean are pristine.

Humans have impacted virtually every process on planet Earth. You can find our trash in the most remote areas of the ocean, our plastics washed up on remote beaches where humans don’t even live and our chemicals in the clouds hovering high above our heads. That is, unless you head far, far south.

The researchers studying the air over the Southern Ocean discovered that the clouds there show no sign of human grossness. There are no traces of used-up fossil fuels, fertilizers, or human waste. It’s about as clean as it can get and it somehow still exists here on Earth.

The scientists took samples from close to the ocean’s surface as well as from the atmosphere high above. They studied the makeup of the microbes that were found in the air, which can offer a clue as to where the air has been. They found that the microbes likely originated in the ocean. The remote Southern Ocean is far enough from most of human civilization to have escaped much of our pollution.

“The aerosols controlling the properties of SO (Southern Ocean) clouds are strongly linked to ocean biological processes and that Antarctica appears to be isolated from southward dispersal of microorganisms and nutrient deposition from southern continents,” Thomas Hill, co-author of the study, said in a statement. “Overall, it suggests that the [Southern Ocean] is one of very few places on Earth that has been minimally affected by anthropogenic activities.”

It’s neat to hear about an aspect of Earth’s natural processes that humans haven’t managed to ruin over the centuries. There’s so little about Earth that we haven’t impacted in one way or another, but the cool, clean air above the chilly Southern Ocean is still holding out. You have to wonder how long it will be before someone decides to bottle up that air and sell it at Walmart checkouts for 99 cents.


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