Plankton may form clouds.
July 17, 2004 1:35 AM   Subscribe

Clouds formed at sea may be created by plankton to protect themselves from harsh UV rays by inducing more dimethyl sulfide to the atmosphere.
posted by rudyfink (9 comments total)

Yet another reason to save the whales...
posted by srboisvert at 4:32 AM on July 17, 2004

or to eat them at a faster rate?

( not really)

Is this Gaia at work ? Another small bit of a vastly complex homostatic system? Should we dump dimethyl sulfide to induce cloudiness and so slow global warming ?

Probably not - there likely would be other, even worse problems that would ensue.
posted by troutfishing at 5:16 AM on July 17, 2004

Um, (spoiler), this is exactly how The Beast (the A.I. MMPORG) ends -- hyper-aware cyber-plankton develops into a massive neural net than begins collaborating with the other robots to alter weather patterns. adrianhon can tell you more.
posted by blueshammer at 7:15 AM on July 17, 2004

gaia theory, anyone?
posted by leotrotsky at 8:07 AM on July 17, 2004

Mhhhh let's say SOME of the clouds formed at sea, shall we ? Evaporation still plays a factor I think.
posted by elpapacito at 9:52 AM on July 17, 2004

Deus ex Machina. This really jumps to conclusions.

Comparitively, a scientific study recently involved dumping several tons of iron fertilizer into the iron poor South Polar sea. This resulted in a huge bloom of plankton. From this we can extrapolate that the iron-starved plankton willed the scientists to dump the iron fertilizer there as an experiment.
posted by kablam at 4:29 PM on July 17, 2004

leotrotsky - Yes, Gaia theory.

kablam - these feedbacks, between living organisms an the atmosphere are what make -and have made - life on Earth possible for humans in the first place.

Plants generate oxygen and cycle nitrogen and carbon, calcium, and other elements. They also work to maintain optimal balances of these elements within fairly narrow parameters.

Too much atmospheric carbon and the planet heats up. Too much oxygen and forest fires turn into unstoppable burning that would consume most or all forests on the planet, with terrible results.

Have plants and animals co-evolved to maintain some of the earth's crucial climatic parameters ?

Well, there's the "optimal greenhouse effect" - without the warming layer of the Earth's atmosphere, the Earth would be, average, about 60 degrees Fahrenheight cooler at sea level. Plants and animals are the key players in maintaining the current atmospheric composition which - among other things - keeps the planet at such a relatively pleasant average.

Can a system with homeostatic properties - as the Earth's coupled atmospheric/climatic system that Gaians claim is largely life-driven - seems to be have occured simply by chance ?

Anythings possible, I guess, but that would seem highly unlikely.

A Deus-Ex-Machina ? Hardly. It's been shown now, at least at the level of local environments, that living organisms - in rainforests, for example - "cooperate" (read - have co-evolved) to optimize the local environment in a way which benefits most members...for that minority of species for whom this optimization is not beneficial -well, they move elsewhere or die off. It's a tryranny of the majority to set local climatic, environmental parameters.

Moving up to the planetary level, without hypothesizing a co-evolution of species together to maintain overall climatic paameters, one just can't account for the homeostatic properties of Earth's atmosphere and climate.

Lovelock has demonstrated first simple then more complex homeostatic models. For More on this - further elaboration of specific mechanisms - see Tyler Volk (Associate Prefessor, Dept. of Biology, NYU) :

"The roles of life in the earth system, biogeochemical aspects of global change, and space life support have been areas of research. All concern the cycling of materials by living systems and the coupling of biological models to physical and chemical processes.

This research in the global carbon cycle, for example, suggests that biological evolution has been at least as important in shaping the Earth's thermal and chemical regimes as pure physical forcings. In one case, the evolution of plankton with shells of calcium carbonate pushed Earth's climate toward additional greenhouse warmth. Further back, bacterial mats and crusts changed the climate billions of years before the first mosses and ferns greened the landscape, cooling the Earth by 30 degrees C. Without this microbial forcing of global temperature, complex proteins would not have been chemically stable enough for higher forms of life to evolve.

Most recently, I have been active in what might be called biosphere theory, or Gaia theory (with "biosphere" or "Gaia" defined as the system of atmosphere, ocean, soil, and life). Are there unifying scientific principles that govern diverse phenomena within the biosphere? Past work in Gaia theory has primarily focused on the state of the global environment that surrounds living things, for example, on the chemistry or temperature of atmosphere or ocean. I have been suggesting another approach. This involves close attention to how organisms fit into and in fact make the chemical cycles, the so-called biogeochemical cycles. A potential universal metric for these cycles is the "cycling ratio." This is the ratio of an element's flux into the photosynthesizers within a system (either the biosphere system or subsystems within) relative to the flux of that same element across the system's boundary into the system. I am exploring how this metric could be useful for biosphere theory, as a way of comparing systems with life across different scales of space, essential nutrients, and evolutionary time.

For many years I was active in the research field of advanced life support, helping NASA plan the systems that will someday keep astronauts alive on the Moon and Mars. I developed one of the first computer models to connect the flows and chemical transformations of crop production, human metabolism, and waste processing....."

posted by troutfishing at 6:44 AM on July 18, 2004

troutfishing: but this argues both sides of the fence, that organisms *change* the environment, but strive to maintain *constancy* in the environment.

"Further back, bacterial mats and crusts changed the climate billions of years before the first mosses and ferns greened the landscape, cooling the Earth by 30 degrees C..."

I could cite the effect of organisms which lived when there was so much atmospheric iron that there was little free oxygen around. The organisms produced so much waste oxygen that they caused most of the atmospheric iron to be bound up into iron oxide, and *then* producing oxygen which could be used by different organisms to breathe.
Most of the anerobic organisms then died out in their own waste oxygen.

This to me does not show a system in balance. This was a system out of balance where new organisms adapted to consume an abundance of waste energy--a longstanding principle of evolution--if you have large amounts of potential energy, something will come along to eat it.

A more current example is how when water temperatures go up *as one factor*, the resultant algae blooms can raise water temperature by an *additional* 1 or 2 degrees, which can make a cat 3 hurricaine into a cat 5; which cools water temperature significantly.

This shows that algae *interferes* with a normalization process, making it more dramatic. Plus, it is only *one factor*. If there have been rains on shore, washing nutrients into the ocean, algae blooms can also erupt. Other natural factors can inhibit or wipe out blooms, in a more or less random fashion. Algae blooms can also sterilize huge tracts of ocean (see Florida, black water).

In other words, it is caused by a lot of things, it does a lot of things, and the system adjusts to it, rather than the other way around.
posted by kablam at 2:13 PM on July 18, 2004

"but this argues both sides of the fence, that organisms *change* the environment, but strive to maintain *constancy* in the environment." - As I said, organisms coevolve. They change their environment.

Your first example deals with concerns life on Earth before the advent of significant photosynthetic life - a very long time ago, billions of years I believe. That would predate angiosperms (flowering plants), most animals, and so on.

Your second example is pewripheral to my overall point - it concerns an epiphenomenon, I believe.

To talk in those terms - "change" and "strive" - is a shorthand and is so to be distinguished from Lamarckian reasoning.
posted by troutfishing at 8:59 PM on July 18, 2004

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