The tiny plankton could be playing a bigger role in cloud formation than what has been envisaged by scientists. In a new research, it was revealed that the miniscule plankton produce airborne gases and organic matter that seeds cloud droplets which results in brighter clouds that reflect more sunlight.
Daniel McCoy, a University of Washington doctoral student in atmospheric sciences said that the clouds over the Southern Ocean reflects more sunlight in summer, and these huge plankton blooms play a very important role in its formation. In the summer, we get double the concentration of cloud droplets.
The Southern Ocean was chosen because of its pristine environment, and there are few sources of aerosols from pollution and sources on land like forests. The study was published July 17 in Science Advances and was spearheaded by University of Washington and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Earlier in 2014 McCoy and co-author Daniel Grosvenor, presently with the University of Leeds had obtained NASA satellite data to prove that Southern Ocean clouds are made up of smaller droplets in summer. However, this goes contrary to logic because stormy seas calm down in summer and produce less sea spray and hence less airborne salt.
The latest study looks at other factors that could make the clouds more reflective. Susannah Burrows, a scientist with the Pacific Northwest National Lab in Richland, Washington used the ocean biology model to confirm if the biological matter could affect the formation of clouds and its composition.
Marine life could have a profound effect on cloud formation in more than one ways. Firstly Sulfitobacter bacteria and phytoplankton such as coccolithophores produce dimethyl sulfide that gives a distinct sulfurous smell to the sea, and it also produces particles to serve as seed for the marine cloud droplets.The tiny plankton has a big role to play in the cloud formation.