A new study by researchers with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) has found that corals produce a sulfur compound that creates the ocean smell that many people are familiar with. The compound, called dimethylsulphoniopropionate is produced by the corals, and not the symbiotic algae as previously thought. The study also found that as the corals are exposed to heat stress, the corals produce a higher level of DMSP, which the scientists say protects the corals from the effects of heat. The scientists also say that the compound acts as a seed for the formation of clouds and state that a decline in DMSP producers, corals, could have negative impacts on clouds.
“Cloud production, especially in the tropics, is an important regulator of climate – because clouds shade the Earth and reflect much of the sun’s heat back into space. If fewer clouds are produced, less heat will be reflected – which ultimately will lead to warmer sea surface temperatures,” said Dr. Jean-Baptiste Raina, a researcher with AIMS and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University (CoECRS) and lead author of the study, said in a news release. “This is the first time that an animal has been identified as a DMSP producer.”
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The complete paper, “DMSP biosynthesis by an animal and its role in coral thermal stress response,” can be found in the latest issue of the journal Nature.