Algae Snot Explodes Cloud Formation Mystery: Page 2

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The microgels they found contained genetic signs of having come from algae with anti-freeze adaptations -- just like those that grow in sea ice.

Do you ever wonder why you can sometimes see clouds at night?
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As to how these microgels get into the air, that could be as simple as bubbles popping on the surface, said Kieber, who gave a related talk on what this means to the carbon balance of the seas in the same session of the meeting.

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The nature of substances inside a tiny bubble that comes up from the depths changes dramatically as the pressure changes, acidity changes and it's suddenly exposed to the atmosphere, Kieber explained.

In fact, a lot more than just algae snot is in the clouds, Kieber said. It's beginning to look like scientists have found a previously unknown conduit for carbon to pass from the seas -- even the deep seas -- into the atmosphere.

“Our understanding of major processes involving this important component of the earth system is evolving rapidly,” agreed atmosphere researcher Bill Keene of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

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The shift, say the researchers, is largely due to an international scientific initiative called the Surface Ocean Lower Atmosphere Study (SOLAS), a part of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. The goal of the program is to work out the details of how the ocean and atmosphere interact and are affected -- and affect -- climate change. As a result, SOLAS includes meteorologists, oceanographers, chemists and marine biologists.

That makes for some very exciting discoveries and exceptionally interesting research, said Kieber. But its novelty and multidisciplinary nature also makes it a lot harder to get funding for, he said.

“We really are in the infancy of understanding the stuff,” Kieber said.

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