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  • Writer's pictureAudrey Enbom

Journal Club Assignment 1; Phytoplankton

By Audrey Enbom, 06/29/2023

AI generated photo of phytoplankton
an AI generated photo of the prompt "deep sea microorganism phytoplankton"

(A copy of one of my assignments for my marine biology class that sparked the idea to write the article The Super-Hero of the Sea; Phytoplankton!)

Audrey Enbom

Journal Club Assignment 1

June 28th 2023

Leonard D. (May 2023) Plankton Generate A Cloudy Shield Over the Antarctic. Scientific American. Vol 328, Issue 5: 14-15

Studies have revealed that the reason behind clouds being whiter closer to Antarctica is due to phytoplankton, a type of aquatic microorganism that photosynthesizes. For 5 years, satellite data of the Southern Ocean was collected and led to the discovery that clouds closer to Antarctica tend to be whiter than clouds farther to the North. Due to the question this phenomenon raised, it was uncovered that the reason behind whiter clouds was the abundance of phytoplankton in the Arctic areas, and specifically one of the byproducts of their existence. A product of phytoplankton's metabolic reaction is a compound called dimethyl sulfide. Dimethyl sulfide, once released, reacts with gasses in the atmosphere to create small aerosol particles, which end up making these unusually white clouds. These clouds end up having many smaller particles that make it so there is a greater than normal surface area for sunlight to reflect off of, making them appear whiter. To compare, Northern clouds have fewer larger particles that lead to a total smaller surface area. The studies also determined that there's a correlation between season and cloud whiteness, as there is a relationship between phytoplankton populations and seasons. The studies also conclude that phytoplankton's role in cloud whitening should be taken into account in general and specifically when creating climate models. I think this article is extremely interesting and inspiring in that it adds on to the list of important roles that phytoplankton play on our planet and specifically in our ecosystems. Phytoplankton, being THE basis of the aquatic food web, already are the keystone species of the marine ecosystem, and it is just so mesmerizing how they are playing even more roles then you would suspect, now being found to also play a major role in climate control! In short, yay phytoplankton! They are brilliant creatures that are way more interesting than you would expect, which this article really highlights.

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