Tiny Animals Help With Cloud Formation

by Bob

in News, Plankton

Clouds over both the ocean and land are formed when tiny water droplets/ice particles attach themselves to even smaller air particles such as dust and soot. Ocean clouds are formed primarily when sea salt is released into the atmosphere via tiny air bubbles that pop on the ocean’s surface. New research suggests that the thin layer of phytoplankton that live on the surface of the oceans may player a bigger part in cloud formation than previously thought.

On the surface of the oceans there exists a small layer of plant life called phytoplankton. These phytoplankton exude material that can end up in the lower atmosphere where water attaches to them, forming clouds. This was suspected but now has been proven in a study published in the science journal Nature. 

Seaspray is formed by breaking waves that release air bubbles of salt water and organic material into the air. Winds carry these small particles higher up into the atmospherewhere water and ice particles attach and eventually for clouds.

Testing water samples

Testing ocean water samples in the lab aboard the RRS James Clark Ross . Courtesy: Theo Wilson, University of Leeds

A greater understanding of how ocean clouds are formed is important for predicting future climate.

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