A new study has showed that phytoplankton play a part in cloud formation by brightening the clouds. Researchers claim that phytoplankton in Southern Ocean plays an incredibly important role in cloud formation. Gusts of wind sweep phytoplankton out of their water home and involve them in water condensation. Phytoplankton helps with the formation of brighter clouds which reflect more light.
Phytoplankton is a photosynthesizing organism which can be found in the upper layer of fresh water and oceans. They cause half of the droplets that cover the Southern Ocean in summer. These organisms draw down CO2 for photosynthesis, which makes them very important for the Earth’s climate. Besides this the new study published in the journal Science Advances shows that phytoplankton reflects four more watts of incoming solar radiation per square meter in the Southern Ocean area.
Daniel McCoy from the University of Washington was one of the researchers involved in the study. He remarked:
“The clouds over the Southern Ocean reflect significantly more sunlight in the summertime than they would without these huge plankton blooms. In the summer, we get about double the concentration of cloud droplets as we would if it were a biologically dead ocean.”
Clouds take shape when water droplets condense tiny particles such as dead microorganisms, specks of salt, dead organic matter and dust. The brightness of the cloud is influenced by the size of these particles. It seems that particles which are small form smaller droplets. This creates more surface area inside the cloud in order to reflect back incoming light from the sun. As a consequence the surface of the earth is cooler.
Co-author of the study Susannah Burrows explained that phytoplankton produces dimethyl sulfide which is transported by the wind in higher levels of the atmosphere. Afterwards it gets chemically transformed and produces aerosols. This occurs in the northern part of the domain, whereas in the southern part the organics have more effect since the phytoplankton bloom happens there. This process doubles the droplet concentration during summer.
The researchers managed to make this discovery with the help of a NASA instrument which was invented about ten years ago. The device, called an imaging spectroradiometer, was used to analyze the size of the droplets and led to this discovery.
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