Environment Coral reefs emit gas that influences climate

Coral reefs emit gas that influences climate

Coral reefs at Heron Island in the Great Barrier Reef have been shown to emit a gas that helps in the formation of clouds that affect rainfall, a team of Southern Cross University biogeochemists has found.

The naturally occurring gas, dimethylsulfide (DMS), can help in the seeding of low-level clouds, which means it may influence the regional climate of the Great Barrier Reef and north eastern Australia, as well as the El Nino effect

This study is the first long-term continuous measurement of the gas emissions over the reef.

The researchers used sensitive automated instruments that could detect the gas emitted from coral, separately to the DMS naturally derived from the ocean. These were usually seen at low tide when parts of the reef were exposed, allowing direct exchange of DMS from coral to the atmosphere.

“The study provides compelling environmental evidence that the Great Barrier Reef is a source of atmospheric DMS, a climate active compound,” said PhD student Mr Hilton Swan.

“DMS’s atmospheric oxidation products participate in a climate feedback which can increase low-level cloud cover, which can influence solar radiation levels over the Great Barrier Reef.”

Associate Professor Graham Jones, from the Marine Ecology Research Centre said the cloud-coral reef feedback could be linked to the frequency and severity of El Nino, which strongly influences the climate of northern Australia and has major implications for agriculture.

“This research means we can now assess the importance of the Great Barrier Reef to the emission of this gas to the atmosphere …and assess the magnitude of the coral reef feedback,” Associate Professor Jones said.

The research team also included Southern Cross University’s Dr Elisabeth Deschaseaux and Professor Bradley Eyre from the University’s Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry Research. The work was undertaken as part of Mr Swan’s doctoral thesis.
Read more about the study’s significance here. Story credit: Southern Cross University newsroom.

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