Plankton cool the southern hemisphere

November 17, 2004

Dutch research has shown that marine plankton have the greatest effect on the climate in the southern hemisphere, even though the majority of plankton are found in oceans in the northern hemisphere.

Mtinkheni Gondwe used satellite observations to follow the distribution of phytoplankton in the oceans. Although the majority of plankton are found between the middle and high latitudes in the northern hemisphere, the effect of these on the climate is greatest in the southern hemisphere.

Plankton can influence the climate by producing the gas dimethyl sulphide (DMS). This gas is a source of small sulphur particles in the atmosphere, which act as condensation nuclei for the water vapour. The miniscule water drops formed in the air as a result of this, reflect the sunlight back before it reaches the Earth, causing the Earth to cool.

There are various reasons why plankton exert a greater influence on the climate in the southern hemisphere than in the northern hemisphere. For example, the plankton species in the southern hemisphere produce more DMS than their northern counterparts. Also in the southern hemisphere there is a higher DMS flux from the sea to the atmosphere and the sea surface area is greater. Finally, the atmosphere has a lower oxidation capacity in the southern hemisphere than in the northern hemisphere, which means that less DMS is broken down in the atmosphere. In the more industrialised northern atmosphere, there is a far greater emission of radical precursors which increase this oxidation capacity.

However, Gondwe concludes that the production of DMS by plankton only has a small effect on the Earth's temperature. Other compounds, such as carbon dioxide and CFCs have a far greater effect on the Earth's climate. The effects of the DMS production by plankton are particularly noticeable at a regional level.
The research was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

Related Plankton Articles from Brightsurf:

Plankton turn hunters to survive dinosaur-killing asteroid impact
New research by an international team of scientists shows how marine organisms were forced to 'reboot' to survive following the asteroid impact 66 million years ago which killed three quarters of life on earth.

Red Sea plankton communities ebb and flow with the seasons
Studies of plankton communities in Red Sea waters provide insights into seasonal variations and dominant control mechanisms.

Dramatic decrease in cold-water plankton during industrial era
There has been a dramatic decrease in cold-water plankton during the 20th century, in contrast to thousands of years of stability, according to a new UCL-led study.

Study shows six decades of change in plankton communities
New research published in Global Change Biology shows that some species have experienced a 75% population decrease in the past 60 years, while others are more than twice as abundant due to rises in sea surface temperatures.

Tiny, but effective
Barely visible to the naked eye, gelatinous zooplankton is an important part of the marine ecosystem.

There are variations in plankton biodiversity and activity from the equator to the poles
New results from the Tara Oceans expedition, led by a collaboration between the Tara Ocean Foundation and teams from the CNRS, EMBL, CEA, Sorbonne Université and Université Paris Science Lettres between 2009 and 2013 show that the diversity and functions of planktonic species in the global ocean change dramatically according to latitude.

UCI-led study: Plankton are more resilient to nutrient stress than previously thought
Surface ocean phosphate is a key mineral supporting the growth and diversification of phytoplankton, a marine organism the absorbs significant amounts of carbon dioxide from Earth's atmosphere.

Ancient plankton help researchers predict near-future climate
Temperature data inferred from plankton fossils from the Pliocene, an era with CO2 levels similar to today's, allowed a UA-led team to rectify discrepancies between climate models and other proxy temperature measurements.

Dinoflagellate plankton glow so that their predators won't eat them
Some dinoflagellate plankton species are bioluminescent, with a remarkable ability to produce light to make themselves and the water they swim in glow.

Plankton as a climate driver instead of the sun?
Fluctuations in the orbital parameters of the Earth are considered to be the trigger for long-term climatic fluctuations such as ice ages.

Read More: Plankton News and Plankton Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to