Microscopic marine life known as phytoplankton might be brightening up the sky all around the world, a new study published in the journal Science Advances suggests.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle, has found a correlation between the amount of phytoplankton that have gathered in the Southern Ocean and the amount of water droplets contained within the clouds above it.
The Southern Ocean, which is located south of Brazil and covers an area extending to the Tierra del Fuego, is isolated from human factors — making it a perfect test environment for the university’s researchers.
The plankton, which are swept from the ocean by the wind, impact water condensation through the emission of dimethyl sulfide — an aerosol which helps form water droplets when it rises in the air. In the summer, plankton emit “sea spray,” or phytoplankton poop excretions, which are also swept up by the wind.
The study’s researchers determined that the clouds above the Southern Ocean hold 60 percent more water droplets in them throughout the year and as a result, the clouds above the ocean reflect four more watts of sunlight per square meter and ten more watts per square meter during the summer when the plankton emit sea spray.
Daniel McCoy, the study’s lead author, was quoted by Live Science as having said that the study’s most important implication as it pertains to climate “is that it gives us a way of understanding in a top-down, observationally based way what the interaction is between phytoplankton and cloud properties” and that it helps us better understand the variables which climate change prediction should take into account.
I think that the big, important climate implication from this is that it gives us a way of understanding in a top-down, observationally based way what the interaction is between phytoplankton and cloud properties. (The study) helps us have a better idea of what (factors) the climate change prediction should be including.