Scientists say microscopic organic matter from life in the oceans causes cloud droplets to freeze into ice particles when it's tossed into the atmosphere by waves. Matthew Stock reports.
A team of international scientists say they've proved that plant life in the ocean can contribute to the formation of ice particles in clouds. These particles influence how long a cloud exists and the amount rain, hail or snow it produces. The discovery, published in scientific journal Nature, could help reduce uncertainties in global climate modelling. Organic matter from microscopic phytoplankton is launched into atmosphere along with sea spray by the force of breaking waves. Once airboure it triggers ice particle formation. Samples of this waste was collected by remote vessels launched from research ships in the Arctic Ocean. The scientists say they now have "clear evidence" that this organic matter is able to form ice in clouds and could do so in the atmosphere. This could prove particularly important for climate scientists as the shrinking of the polar ice caps increases the amount of open ocean space from which these particles could be emitted into the atmosphere. The investigation was partly funded by the UK's Arctic Research Programme to aid understanding and predictions of Arctic change.