Are marine living microorganisms influencing clouds?
In the 1970’s, scientists James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis developed a new paradigm for how we view our planet, termed the Gaia Principle. In it, they proposed that the Earth can be thought of as a complex living organism, composed of all the various living organisms existing together in a delicate balance with their inorganic surroundings. In order to keep the conditions favorable for life, the Earth responds to various environmental changes by emitting gases and particles (termed aerosols) into the atmosphere. Once there, these species can alter the climate in a multitude of ways; such as the amount of rain we receive from clouds or how much heat the atmosphere holds onto.
The main goal of the Sea2Cloud project is to investigate how the emissions from living microorganisms in the ocean ultimately alter the properties of clouds in the atmosphere.
Oceans are a crucial part of this process as they cover 70% of the Earth’s surface. In addition to the sea salt and various gases that are emitted into the atmosphere during the breaking of waves, the oceans are also filled with microorganisms such as phytoplankton, bacteria, and viruses that emit their own particles and gases, which subsequently can alter the properties of a large fraction of the Earth’s clouds. The exact mechanism of these processes are still poorly understood due to scarce observational data sets and instrumental limitations. The main goal of the Sea2Cloud project is to investigate how the emissions from living microorganisms in the ocean ultimately alter the properties of clouds in the atmosphere.
To accomplish this goal, Sea2Cloud will be conducting experiments in the Southern Hemisphere, where the atmosphere is especially sensitive to changes in gas and aerosol composition. The experimental approach will be to use mesocosms enclosing large volumes of seawater and the atmosphere above it in order to link marine emissions to the biogeochemical properties of natural seawater with little perturbations of its biodiversity. Furthermore, ship voyages onto the Southern Ocean will be conducted to attain valuable measurements and data. This process-based approach will be complemented with ambient measurements of aerosol properties and their precursors simultaneously at low and high altitude sites. To learn more about the specific questions Sea2Cloud is trying to answer, and the state-of-the-art scientific methods employed, head over to our Science page.