From Plants and Fungi to Clouds

Salt compounds produced by plant and fungus species help form organic aerosols that form clouds and produce rain.

By | August 31, 2012

Aerial view of the Amazon RainforestFlickr, Center For International Forestry Research

The atmosphere is replete with aerosols made up of organic molecules, which are necessary for clouds to form, as well as for rain and other forms of precipitation to fall. However, how these organic aerosols form has largely remained a mystery to atmospheric scientists. Now, a new study published in Science this week (August 30) shows that salt compounds released by plants and fungi hover above the Amazon Rainforest, where the may exert a significant impact on the region’s weather by contributing to s aerosols to the atmosphere and serving as seeds for cloud and rain formation.

An international team of researchers led by biogeochemist Meinrat Andreae of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany found the particles by climbing up a 262-foot tower and collecting air samples, PhysOrg reported. The main source of these particles, which are rich in potassium, is likely fungal spores, which have a gel coating that make it easy for water molecules to latch on, although plants had been previously shown to efficiently release salts into the air.

“Our findings support the hypothesis that the Amazonian rainforest ecosystem can be regarded as a biogeochemical reactor in which the formation of clouds and precipitation in the atmosphere are triggered by particles emitted from the biosphere,” the authors wrote in the Science paper.

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