This Is How Tiny Plankton Cool the World’s Oceans
by Owen James Burke
Above: Bright green swirls show a massive phytoplankton bloom off Patagonia, South America, December 2010. Image: NASA.
During summer months in the Southern Ocean, when one might suspect that waters would be cooling and algae blooming–as in the northern hemisphere’s summers–a fancy little phytoplankton is hard at work.
The phytoplankton, tiny drifting organisms that form the basis of the marine good chain, emit an oxygen-bound gas into the atmosphere called dimethyl sulfide (an organic sulfur). Their concentration becomes so prolific that they seed clouds, which, within every square meter, reflect about 4 solar watts of energy back at the sun–twice that of what the reflect in the winter, when clouds–and phytoplankton–are fewer and farther between..
Photo: Mr Thomas/Flickr.com