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Precipitation and clouds produced by healthy coral reefs

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010 at 6:54 pm by

In 20 years of research, Dr. Grahm Jones of Southern Cross University, is beginning to unravel a connection between coastal precipitation and healthy coral reefs. The study suggests that a substance called dimethylsulphide (DMS) is released by thriving reefs, and goes on to seed clouds in the atmosphere, leading to precipitation. Jones says that “”Coral reefs produce a volatile substance called dimethylsulphide or DMS which oxidizes in the atmosphere to produce cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). These are tiny sulphur aerosol particles around which water vapor condenses to form clouds,” Jones explained to, adding that, “water vapor cannot form clouds without these tiny aerosol particles being present.”

Jones has found that DMS is produced by algae living within the coral tissue, and that this process actually shows seasonal patterns. Another interesting fact discovered by, is that a minor increase in ocean temperature can affect this process. “When we put small pieces of staghorn coral (Acropora the branching coral which is the dominant coral in the Indo-Pacific region) in chambers containing seawater at Heron Island coral cay the production of atmospheric DMS shuts down when we increase seawater temperatures by only 2 degrees Celsius above the yearly mean,”. Jones concludes that a decreased number of CCN is produced over coral reefs during high sea surface temperatures, leading to a decrease on cloud cover.

Jones goes on to assert that some rainforests benefit from a healthy reef’s ability to form cloud cover, during specific seasons. If this is really the case (and more research will need to be done to conclude so), then climate changes effecting reefs around the world could have a larger impact than we originally though.

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