Ocean life helps produce clouds, but existing clouds keep new ones at bay.
Ocean plankton breathe about 20 million tons of sulfur into the air every year. Chemical reactions can take place to result in sulfuric acid, which produces clouds by giving a site for water droplets to form.
New research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals that one-third of the sulfur emitted from the sea can never help new clouds form because it is lost to the clouds themselves. The new findings significantly alter the prevailing understanding of how marine life influences clouds and may change the way scientists predict how cloud formation responds to changes in the oceans.
Clouds help mediate the climate in general by reflecting sunlight back into space and controlling rainfall. Thus, accurately predicting cloud formation is essential to understanding the effects of climate change.