Who could’ve known? A scientist team over at the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment (CAICE), have just found out how phytoplankton concentrations on the ocean surface are able to find their way into the air – and affect the planet on a large scale.
It’s been puzzling for researchers to see how organic aerosols (airborne particles in the size of molecules) could possibly be connected to and originate from marine bacteria on the surface of the sea. After engaging a wave machine, filling it with 3,400 gallons of natural sea water from the California coast, it was a lot easier to figure this one out.
As microbes munch away on microscopic algae, such as phytoplankton, they leave behind them a multitude of different molecular particles, such as lipids and sugars, and – waiting for the right wave to break in – then they get airborne, when small bubbles formed on the water surface bursts. The chemistry of the aerosols then impact how the clouds form and how the sun scatters across the ocean surface.
The reason this is interesting from a climate change point of view, is that clouds form from content in the air, which means the large outlets of different types of particles coming from the enormous areas of our planet that are covered with water, will have a lot to say when it comes to what goes where up there.
Clouds are a huge component in the whole scenario that causes our climate to get colder or warmer, which anyone that have stood dripping wet in the sun after a dip in a pool, only to have a cloud cover the cozy sun rays, could confirm. The aerosol contents will now be even more important for climatologists as they add in this new factor in their forecasting models.
So the next time you get a fresh spray of seawater on your face, remember that all around you there are microscopical, now airborne particles that are heading for the sky, possibly leaving you with rain the next day, and possibly leaving the planet in a different state for a few hundred years to come.
Image source: Lazlo Ilyes