A new study suggests that as oceans become more acidic, plankton could produce less of a compound that is key to cloud formation. Clouds help keep earth cool.
Beth Ipsen/Arctic Sounder/AP/File
Global warming may get a nudge from its "evil twin," ocean acidification.
That possibility is raised in a new study that suggests that the activities of a tiny plankton – affected by the growing acidity of the world's oceans – could raise average global temperatures by as much as 1 degree Fahrenheit above current estimates.
The study, published Sunday in Nature Climate Change, represents a first cut at the issue and so faces a range of uncertainties. Trends in greenhouse-gas emissions, for example, could impact the findings.
Still, the work is "important" and "unique," says Richard Feely, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.
"I don't think any of the previous modeling includes the effect of acidification on biological feedbacks" to the atmosphere, says Dr. Feely, who was not a member of the research team.
This "biological feedback" involves a compound produced by the plankton, called (rather unmercifully) dimethylsulfoniopropionate. Mercifully, scientists have reduced the name to the acronym: DMSP.