Blooming phytoplankton seed clouds in the Southern Ocean

sea spray

Southern Ocean sea spray, similar to this off the coast of Australia, can launch particles from phytoplankton that seed planet-cooling clouds.

Susannah M. Burrows

A plethora of phytoplankton kick up clouds in the Southern Ocean, researchers report July 17 in Science Advances.

The tiny ocean critters release organic matter and sulfates, which get whipped into the air and seed cloud formation. Those clouds reflect sunlight, helping to cool the planet. Using satellite data and computer simulations, researchers found that the particles boosted cloud droplet concentration by about 60 percent each year in the Southern Ocean, which encircles Antarctica.

Those puffy masses gliding over the remote ocean — the cloudiest region on Earth — could sway the atmospheric and ocean circulation in the entire Southern Hemisphere, researchers suggest.

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