Marine microbes, clouds and the world's climate 2

The importance of coral reefs to industries such as tourism and fishing is well known but few people realise they also play an important role in the formation of clouds and hence are critical to the world's climate.

AIMS scientists are at the forefront of research into the remarkable links between coral, bacteria, clouds and reef health. At the heart of this process is the role of organic sulfur compounds in driving coral bacterial associations. Living within every colony of coral are millions of bacteria and other microscopic organisms. Our researchers have gained new insights into the important relationships between coral, bacteria and various sulfur compounds – one of which (dimethylsulfide) is particularly important in climate regulation owing to its role in cloud formation.

Once in the atmosphere dimethylsulfide is oxidized into various sulfur compounds, which in turn create aerosols around which clouds can condense.

Research to which AIMS scientists have significantly contributed demonstrates that these sulfur compounds also act as nutrient sources for coral-associated bacteria and that they are likely to play a role in structuring bacterial communities in corals, with important consequences for the health of both corals and coral reef ecosystems.