Usually the smallest organisms on Earth tend to have the biggest effect on the planet. A new study has shown just another was that this is true. Scientists have found that marine plankton are partially responsible for illuminating clouds.
Clouds are very important for our climate as they deflect radiation away from Earth so these tiny plankton play a role in Earths climate.
The study was a joint effort between the University of Washington and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
According to the researchers, the waste products plankton create are responsible for creating higher illumination of clouds. The organic waste becomes airborne and ‘seeds cloud droplets.’
As seen in the diagram above, a combination of dimethyl sulfide and organic matter produced by plankton along with salt in the water are released into the air and accumulate in cloud and from droplets. These droplets are important for several factors of cloud properties including albedo (how reflective they are).
Daniel McCoy of the University of Washington says that without marine plankton, cloud droplets would be halved resulting in far less radiation being reflected over the ocean.
The researchers monitored cloud formation over areas of ocean using NASA satellites.
The team found that clouds over oceans were composed primarily of the droplets of organic matter and dimethyl sulfide.
Susannah Burrows, who also participated in the study described how the droplets formed: “The dimethyl sulfide produced by the phytoplankton gets transported up into higher levels of the atmosphere and then gets chemically transformed and produces aerosols further downwind.”
The study was published in the journal Science Advances.