Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Marine plankton brighten clouds over Southern Ocean

27.07.2015

New research using NASA satellite data and ocean biology models suggests tiny organisms in vast stretches of the Southern Ocean play a significant role in generating brighter clouds overhead. Brighter clouds reflect more sunlight back into space affecting the amount of solar energy that reaches Earth's surface, which in turn has implications for global climate. The results were published July 17 in the journal Science Advances.

The study shows that plankton, the tiny drifting organisms in the sea, produce airborne gases and organic matter to seed cloud droplets, which lead to brighter clouds that reflect more sunlight.


Satellites use chlorophyll's green color to detect biological activity in the oceans. The lighter-green swirls are a massive December 2010 plankton bloom following ocean currents off Patagonia, at the southern tip of South America.

Credits: NASA's Earth Observatory

"The clouds over the Southern Ocean reflect significantly more sunlight in the summertime than they would without these huge plankton blooms," said co-lead author Daniel McCoy, a University of Washington doctoral student in atmospheric sciences. "In the summer, we get about double the concentration of cloud droplets as we would if it were a biologically dead ocean."

Although remote, the oceans in the study area between 35 and 55 degrees south is an important region for Earth's climate. Results of the study show that averaged over a year, the increased brightness reflects about 4 watts of solar energy per square meter.

McCoy and co-author Daniel Grosvenor, now at the University of Leeds, began this research in 2014 looking at NASA satellite data for clouds over the parts of the Southern Ocean that are not covered in sea ice and have year-round satellite data. The space agency launched the first Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), instrument onboard the Terra satellite in 1999 to measure the cloud droplet size for all Earth's skies. A second MODIS instrument was launched onboard the Aqua satellite in 2002.

Clouds reflect sunlight based on both the amount of liquid suspended in the cloud and the size of the drops, which range from tiny mist spanning less than a hundredth of an inch (0.1 millimeters) to large drops about half an inch (10 millimeters) across. Each droplet begins by growing on an aerosol particle, and the same amount of liquid spread across more droplets will reflect more sunlight.

Using the NASA satellite data, the team showed in 2014 that Southern Ocean clouds are composed of smaller droplets in the summertime. But that doesn't make sense, since the stormy seas calm down in summer and generate less sea spray to create airborne salts.

The new study looked more closely at what else might be making the clouds more reflective. Co-lead author Susannah Burrows, a scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Lab in Richland, Washington, used an ocean biology model to see whether biological matter could be responsible.

Marine life can affect clouds in two ways. The first is by emitting a gas, such as dimethyl sulfide released by Sulfitobacter bacteria and phytoplankton such as coccolithophores, which creates the distinctive sulfurous smell of the sea and also produces particles to seed marine cloud droplets.

The second way is directly through organic matter that collects at the water's surface, forming a bubbly scum that can get whipped up and lofted into the air as tiny particles of dead plant and animal material.

By matching the cloud droplet concentration with ocean biology models, the team found correlations with the sulfate aerosols, which in that region come mainly from phytoplankton, and with the amount of organic matter in the sea spray.

"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, and that tends to happen more in the northern part of the domain we studied," Burrows said. "In the southern part of the domain there is more effect from the organics, because that's where the big phytoplankton blooms happen."

Taken together, these two mechanisms roughly double the droplet concentration in summer months.

The Southern Ocean is a unique environment for studying clouds. Unlike in other places, the effects of marine life there are not swamped out by aerosols from forests or pollution. The authors say it is likely that similar processes could occur in the Northern Hemisphere, but they would be harder to measure and may have a smaller effect since aerosol particles from other sources are so plentiful.

###

The research was funded by NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy and a graduate fellowship from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Read the paper at Science Advances: advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/6/e1500157

Ellen Gray | EurekAlert!

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past
28.04.2017 | National Science Foundation

nachricht Citizen science campaign to aid disaster response
28.04.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>