Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Plankton May Influence Climate Change Says UCSB Scientist

Date:
May 6, 2004
Source:
University Of California - Santa Barbara
Summary:
Plankton appear to play a major role in regulating the global climate system, according to new research.

Santa Barbara, Calif. -- Plankton appear to play a major role in regulating the global climate system, according to new research.

Related Articles


David Siegel, professor of geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and director of the Institute for Computational Earth System Science, made the discovery with his former Ph.D. student Dierdre Toole, who is now based at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

In an article in the May 6 issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the scientists explain their research in the Sargasso Sea, approximately 50 miles southeast of the island of Bermuda. Siegel's research group has been making observations at this location since 1992.

Phytoplankton are tiny, single-celled floating plants. They inhabit the upper layers of any natural body of water where there is enough light to support photosynthetic growth. They are the base of the ocean's food web, and their production helps to regulate the global carbon cycle. They also contribute to the global cycling of many other compounds with climate implications.

One of these compounds is a volatile organic sulfur gas called dimethyl sulfide or DMS. Scientists had previously theorized that DMS is part of a climate feedback mechanism, but until now there had been no observational evidence illustrating how reduced sunlight actually leads to the decreased ocean production of DMS. This is the breakthrough in Toole and Siegel's research.

They describe how the cycle begins when the ocean gives off DMS to the lower atmosphere. In the air, DMS breaks down into a variety of sulfur compounds that act as cloud-condensing nuclei, leading to increased cloudiness. With more clouds, less sunlight reaches the Earth and the biological processes which produce DMS are reduced.

According to their research, it appears that phytoplankton produce organic sulfur compounds as a chemical defense from the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation and other environmental stresses, in much the same way as our bodies use vitamins E and C to flush out molecules that cause cellular damage.

Siegel and Toole found that ultraviolet radiation explained almost 90 percent of the variability in the biological production of DMS. They showed that summertime DMS production is "enormous," and that the entire upper layer of DMS content is replaced in just a few days. This demonstrates a tight link between DMS and solar fluxes.

"The significance of this work is that it provides, for the first time, observational evidence showing that the DMS-anti-oxidant mechanism closes the DMS-climate feedback loop," said Siegel. "The implications are huge. Now we know that phytoplankton respond dramatically to UV radiation stresses, and that this response is incredibly rapid, literally just days."

He explained that the findings give new impetus for scientists to re-examine the DMS-climate feedback hypothesis. And the DMS-climate feedback may also play out under possible global warming and climate change scenarios.

As the Earth's ozone shield thins and greenhouse gases increase, higher ultraviolet radiation will reach the surface layer of the oceans. The findings indicate that phytoplankton will then produce more DMS in response to this increased ultraviolet radiation, causing increasing cloudiness and mitigating the effects of global warming. However, Siegel is careful to note that while the process may mitigate global warming it will not reverse the trend.

The project was funded by NASA. NASA's Earth Science Enterprise is dedicated to understanding the Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth System Science to improve prediction of climate, weather, and natural hazards using the unique vantage point of space.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of California - Santa Barbara. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of California - Santa Barbara. "Plankton May Influence Climate Change Says UCSB Scientist." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 May 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/05/040506072006.htm>.
University Of California - Santa Barbara. (2004, May 6). Plankton May Influence Climate Change Says UCSB Scientist. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/05/040506072006.htm
University Of California - Santa Barbara. "Plankton May Influence Climate Change Says UCSB Scientist." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/05/040506072006.htm (accessed October 24, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Friday, October 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) EU leaders achieve a show of unity by striking a compromise deal on carbon emissions. But David Cameron's bid to push back EU budget contributions gets a slap in the face as the European Commission demands an extra 2bn euros. David Pollard reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) A rare tornado ripped roofs off buildings, uprooted trees and shattered windows Thursday afternoon in the southwest Washington city of Longview, but there were no reports of injuries. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Newsy (Oct. 24, 2014) Lava from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island has accelerated as it travels toward a town called Pahoa. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins