New studies have shown that the tiny little sea creatures known as plankton can have a huge impact on the atmosphere, and could even help cool the earth. The Southern Ocean has nearly no human influence enacted upon it, therefore making it a perfect isolated area for scientists and researchers to study. The new revelation about plankton could lead to a better way to help combat global warming.
The Green Phytoplankton
Green phytoplankton get their color from chlorophyll, the chemical that makes plants green as well as lets them absorb sunlight. The byproduct of plankton absorbing sunlight is a chemical compound called dimethyl sulfide. This compound gets released by the plankton and is then turned into a sort of sulfate aerosol that rises into the atmosphere. This particular aerosol attracts droplets of water to it, helping clouds form and making more intense rainfalls. Because the green phytoplankton essentially helps it rain, they are, in essence, helping cool the earth–at least in the areas they reside in.
How Rain can cool the Earth
Rain falls when clouds contain so much moisture that they can’t hold anymore and force it down to the ground. While all the moisture is still in the cloud, though, it acts as a sort of deflector for sunlight. Each individual drop of water that is in a cloud catch the sunlight, and therefore the solar radiation, and keep it from coming through to the earth. Clouds that are very bright have a lot of moisture in them that is catching the sunlight and deflecting it back.
This deflection of sunlight, and more importantly the solar radiation, keeps the heat off of the earth. This breaks up the constant bombarding of heat that comes from the sun that breaks down the atmosphere. Basically, the more moisture that is up in the clouds, the more that it will cool the earth. Because green phytoplankton release a chemical that brings more moisture into the clouds, they help cool the earth by proxy.
The Study in the Southern Ocean
The Southern Ocean lies at the southernmost part of the world and has very little human interaction. This makes it the best place for scientists to perform studies that deal with the clouds. Because the area is so localized and relatively untouched by humans, researchers can rule out variable wind speeds, the temperature of the ocean, and other variables that could influence the formation of water droplets in the clouds.