Small ocean organisms help maintain Earth’s climate

Small ocean organisms help maintain Earth’s climate

Researchers from University of East Anglia and Oregon State University, and University of Exeter have found that small ocean organisms from an abundant bacterial group called ‘Pelagibacterales‘ are helping to maintain the Earth’s atmosphere. They were found to release large amounts of two sulfuric gases into the atmosphere as a part of a negative feedback process known as CLAW hypothesis. The Nature Microbiology journal published the finding this Monday.

The researchers were investigating to generation of a dimethylsulfide (DMS) gas, which is known for stimulating cloud formation, by marine organisms. They studied Pelagibacterales at molecular genetic level. They found that a compound calleddimethylsulfoniopropionate (DNSP), made in large amounts by marine plankton, is then broken down into DMS by Pelagibacterales.

Emily Fowler, a researcher at the University of East Anglia, said Pelagibacterales creates DNS through a previously unknown enzyme. This enzyme can be found in other marine bacterial species. “This likely means we have been vastly underestimating the microbial contribution to the production of this important gas”, Fowler said.

According to Steve Giovannoni, co-author of the journal and distinguished microbiology professor at Oregon State University, these gases can be recognised by their smells. He said, “One of these compounds, dimethylsulfide, or DMS, we recognise as the smell of the sea. The other gas, methanethiol, makes us think of leaking gas lines. In the atmosphere, dimethylsulfide oxidizes to sulfuric acid, which some scientists think can seed cloud formation and alter heating of the Earth.”

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) said the ocean plays an important role in regulating the atmosphere. According to them, certain gases, such as carbon dioxide, help maintain the climate. 90% of the world’s carbon dioxide is now present in the ocean, and it regulates the climate by transferring its gas from air to ocean. The findings may be used to improve NASA climate models, as they do not yet account for DMS and methanethiol gases.

The CLAW hypothesis suggests that ocean microorganisms are responding to global heating by stimulating processes which cool the planet. The exact mechanisms and implications of this process are subject of ongoing research.

References:

Ocean & Climate – chemical coupling with the atmosphere” — NASA (Earth

Observatory),Anthony Watts. “Ocean bacteria are programmed to alter climate gases” — What’s Up With That, May 16, 2016

Bacterial ocean life stablises climate” — Reporting Climate Science, May 16, 2016

Tiny ocean organism has big role in climate regulation” — org, May 16, 2016

Climate variability” — NASA, July 2, 2015

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