Global Climate Change May Make Our Oceans Stinkier

ocean smell photo
Photo: scorbette37 / cc

With the melting ice caps, desertification, and extinctions associated with climate change, it's fair to say that global warming stinks -- but according to ocean researchers, it may literally smell, too. So, as sea-levels rise, making new beachfront property unavoidable in many places around the world, that distinctive ocean smell could be as well.A research team based at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLML), the familiar fragrance of the sea is actually a sulfer-rich gas called dimethyl sulfide, or DMS, that is released by ocean plankton. And, as the team's findings suggest, the production of DMS influenced by local temperatures, which may mean that warmer oceans will be smellier as a result.

From the LLML:

Using climate simulations with a global ocean biogeochemical model, scientists looked at the impact of present-day (355 parts per million) and future (970 parts per million) concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on DMS levels and emissions in the Southern Hemisphere.

What they found was quite a surprise: In the future scenario, the average DMS emission to the atmosphere was 150 percent more than current levels in the Southern Ocean. Team members found that sea ice changes and ocean ecosystem composition shifts caused by changes in temperature, mixing, nutrient and light regimes caused the increase in DMS in their simulation.

"DMS emissions in the Southern Ocean are significantly more sensitive to climate change than previously thought," said researcher Philip Cameron-Smith.

The report also points out the potential impact of ocean acidification that results from carbon emissions being absorbed into seawater, noting that it could be a detriment to plankton production. With all the factors affecting our oceans, brought upon in large part by human activity, soon the problems will be difficult to overlook -- and perhaps, to oversmell.

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