AUG 22, 2018 9:55 AM PDT

How phytoplankton can change the clouds

New research from scientists in Israel suggests that when a specific species of phytoplankton called Emiliania huxleyi is infected with a certain virus, it may have a seemingly unintended consequence: atmospheric changes in clouds.

The virus, called EhV, causes E. huxleyi to release small pieces of its shell, in turn creating what are called sea spray aerosol emissions of calcium carbonate (SSAs). These naturally-occurring aerosols have a similar impact on the atmosphere just as human-made aerosols do: they reflect and disperse sunlight and can even interact with cloud movement and creation.

"SSAs are particles emitted into the atmosphere when bubbles in the ocean burst," says second author Ilan Koren. "They cover 70% of the atmosphere and can serve as cloud condensation nuclei, be surfaces for chemical reactions, and significantly contribute to the Earth radiation budget (the balance of how much solar energy Earth absorbs and how much it emits back into space) because they are very reflective."

Scientists knew all this, but what was surprising to them was the size and frequency of SSA particles. "Although E. huxleyi is extremely abundant, responsible for algal blooms covering thousands of kilometers, we didn't expect to measure such a large flux of SSAs emitted from them into the air. Plus, we expected no larger than a 1-micron diameter but measured 3 and 4 microns," says first author Miri Trainic. "Before this work, we didn't know that such large particles would be so abundant in the marine-atmospheric size distribution." The size of the particles has a direct correlation to the reflectivity properties that they hold. The researchers also determined that the SSAs’ density impacts the atmosphere as well.

A picture of E. huxleyi. Photo: Mikrotax

In order to fully comprehend the significance of these findings, the scientists say that it is necessary to conduct similar studies around the globe. "Our aim is to better understand the effects that marine ecology can have on atmospheric properties like radiation and cloud formation," says Trainic. "This slim air-sea interface controls fluxes of energy, particles, and gases, so if we want to understand climate and climate change, we must understand how microscopic biological activity in the ocean alters this balance."

Sources: Science Daily, iScience

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
DEC 24, 2019
Earth & The Environment
DEC 24, 2019
How we will be remembered: our future fossils
Have you ever wondered what of you will be left behind when you go? It’s a natural question to ponder, and recently paleontologists from the Universi...
DEC 31, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
DEC 31, 2019
Growing a Better Lab-Based Meat
Meat consumption has risen around the world in the past few decades, and demand is still increasing....
JAN 12, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 12, 2020
Himalayan plant cover is shifting
New research published recently in Global Change Biology details the findings from a study on subnival vegetation in the Himalayan region. The findings sug...
JAN 12, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 12, 2020
Diego the Giant Tortoise Returning to Wild After Saving His Species
One would witness a plethora of exotic animals upon visiting the renowned Galápagos Islands, one of which might be the Galápagos giant tortoi...
JAN 15, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 15, 2020
2019 Was The Second Warmest Year on Record
Independent analyses from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have confirmed that 2019 was the second warmest year on recor...
FEB 01, 2020
Earth & The Environment
FEB 01, 2020
Cut the ozone, help the plants
Researchers from the University of Exeter report in Nature Climate Change their findings of a new "natural climate solution”: reducing emissions...
Loading Comments...