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"And the stars are projectors, yeah, projecting our lives down to this planet Earth." - Modest Mouse


7.19.2004

Plankton Manipulate Weather 

This is the type of thing that makes me smile. Another demonstration of the sublime beauty of life's interconnectedness. That's right: you find a tree and I'll hug it!
A recent study funded by NASA's Earth Science Department shows that the tiny sea plants release high quantities of cloud-forming compounds on days when the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays are especially strong. The compounds evaporate into the air through a series of chemical processes that result in especially reflective clouds. This, in turn, blocks the radiation from bothering the phytoplankton.

The two researchers performed the study on measurements taken off the coast of Bermuda. There, they found that the ocean levels of a compound called dimethylsulfoniopropionate, or DMSP, were directly related to the level of ultraviolet radiation reaching the phytoplankton that live near the ocean's surface.

DMSP is an important link in the plankton-to-cloud cycle because, as it leaves the phytoplankton cells and enters into the water, bacteria break it down into a chemical called dimethylsulfide, or DMS. Evaporated water, in turn, carries the DMS into the air where the chemical reacts with oxygen to form various sulfur compounds. These compounds collect as dust particles that promote water condensation, which, finally, leads to cloud formation.

The entire process takes place very rapidly, ensuring that the plankton aren't under the sun's rays too long. In their study, Siegel and Toole found that the upper layer of DMS in the atmosphere could be replaced in just a few days.




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