What gives the sea that smell we love?
It has been known for some time that corals serve as the main producer of dimethylsuphoniopropionate (DMSP), the chemical which acts as the seed for clouds and that gives the sea its unique sent, but until recently it was not known that it was not just the algae living with the coral that produced DMSP, but also the young coral animals, or polyps.
In a paper published in the journal Nature, a documented increase of 54% in the levels of DMSP was observed when polyps were introduced into the setting. “… In fact we could smell it [DMSP] in a single baby coral,” said co-author Cherie Motti from the Australian Institute of Marine Science. The researchers also found that when the temperature of the water was increased the polyps produced ~76% more DMSP. This could be used as an indicator for warming sea temperatures, but would also forewarn a mass die-off of the corals. This is of importance because of the role clouds place in climate regulation in the tropics; if the corals die off because of increasing temperatures less DMSP will be produced and thus less clouds will form leading to an even higher increase in sea temperatures. This is known as a negative feedback loop.