Magazine article USA TODAY

Smell of the Sea Can Cool Climate

Magazine article USA TODAY

Smell of the Sea Can Cool Climate

Article excerpt

An ocean odor that affects global climate also gathers reef fish to feed as they "eavesdrop" on events that might lead them to food, according to a study by the University of California, Davis. Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) is given off by algae and phytoplankton, microscopic one-celled plants that float in the ocean. Release of DMSP usually indicates that tiny animals in the plankton are feeding on the algae, or a massive growth of algae--an algal bloom--has occurred, explains graduate student Jennifer DeBose, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.

Once released from the ocean into the atmosphere, derivatives of DMSP promote cloud formation; these clouds reflect more sunlight back into space and cool the Earth. These sulfur compounds also are known to serve as odor signals to marine organisms and are likely to play an equally important role in marine ecology, notes Gabrielle Nevitt, professor of neurobiology, physiology and behavior and senior author on the study.

The researchers wanted to know if reef fish also respond to these chemicals. DeBose released plumes of DMSP at low concentrations on reefs off the Caribbean island of Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. …

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