Influencing our destiny - and then it gets destroyed so it has to reshape itself - Part 3
Another article in New Scientist (29 June 2013, "Call in the clouds", p. 32-35) but later also on the BBC-website describes how forests help with the formation of clouds so the system maintains itself: trees need water but the water should also evaporate or trees rot and thus they take up the water, release it in the sky so clouds can form to release water. But changes elsewhere also influence the system and thus can destroy the cycle. Trees also release molecules in the air to help the cloud formation and during warm weather, trees release more molecules that further increase cloud formation and thus cool down the area more than when there are no trees. The article also describes how algae release molecules that condense into small particles that may reflect sunlight and cool the area. In summer, there are more algae and thus the effect may be stronger although it seems its effect is small and most cloud formation occurs by salt spray and organic compounds.
|Clouds, in different shapes and colours, and each with their own beauty and story.|
Probably a number of different mechanisms act and sometimes work together while other times oppose each other. Firstly, seas and oceans are in constant movement, resulting in water and salt spray while organic particles are another large portion of what is thrown into the air by oceans and these act as condensation nuclei for cloud formation. Even this is not constant because during hot days there may be less wind and thus a calmer ocean, resulting in less sprays and thus less cloud formation whereby the surface temperature increases and thus a larger difference in surface temperature with other cooler regions so stronger currents and storms can be expected that will mix the waters and cool the area. After winter, more light and increasing water temperature results in algae (and other sea animals) blooming and an increase in life (while the water is still cold enough to cool the land). But these algae also release dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) that reacts with the air to form sulphuric acid vapour that condenses into small aerosols that reflect sunlight directly but also indirectly by making clouds whiter. This effect is probably little but may slowdown the warming so algae can continue growing. When temperatures continue to rise as summer comes, land becomes drier and thus more dust is formed that is blown in the air so more particles can act as nuclei for water to condense. As time moves on, air becomes drier in summer and these particles may become less efficient to form water droplets. As they are small, warm air will take them very high in the sky where there is more moisture while wind can spread them over larger areas and thus it doesn't always result in rain although locally it may result in a strong cooling and rain (e.g. when air is very hot and there is no wind, dust can rise very quickly locally to great height so locally (thunder) clouds may appear). As summer continues, more DMSO is released from algae that can mix with the dust, salt and organic material so larger water droplets can be formed while the clouds are still white and high but start to become more visible; nevertheless, this may still not be sufficient to cool the system although everyone knows the feeling in summer when the sun is hidden by clouds: temperature drops. Systems above land such as the release of terpenes by green tendril also act as cooling systems above forests as they cause a haze that reflects sunlight but also act as nuclei for cloud formation. When summer continues and more particles are released from within oceans and forests and more dust is blown around, they may start to mix as winds blow them in many directions. In this way, larger particles may be formed and thus larger air droplets although often the warm air is still able to keep the clouds in the sky and prevent it from raining (often); still clouds cool. In mid-summer, life is now in urgent need to reduce temperatures and have water.
But even now mechanisms may work to counteract winter: firstly, warm water releases heat in the air and thus slows down the cooling of the planet. But also our planet continues travelling in space and thus days will eventually become longer again (shorter on the other side). But also, dark clouds contain many heavy particles and thus fall easier down to earth, so their effect of blocking sunlight is only temporarily. At the same time, as clouds are dark, maybe they prevent too much cooling as they reflect less sunlight and thus although it feels cold in winter, they may average temperatures by absorbing the sun's energy while if they were white it may result in an even colder environment by reflecting more sunlight. Clouds also prevent that too much heat escapes into space and thus temperatures are higher than without clouds.
As long as everything is as it should be, things are pretty much controlled although there is variability but troubles may happen when external factors change and these are more difficult to predict. E.g. planet Earth may move slightly closer or further away from the sun (we can't stop this process if it happens), or we may interfere a little too much with our planet and change its conditions such as releasing too much greenhouse gasses. Then mechanisms may start that are different from the expected and thus the above described processes may no longer work. E.g. climate change scientists fear that changes in water temperature may stop currents from flowing and think this may be disastrous. I can imaging a higher surface temperature (less oxygen-rich) may result in too many algae (and other animals) dying that may no longer be thrown in the air if seas are calm; less organic material in the air may result in reduced cloud formation and thus less cooling, further increasing the warming of the surface in summer while the cooling on the other side may be slower. This maybe results in fewer but more violent storms because differences in water temperature may become larger, resulting in heavier storms whereby the violent storms will try to return the equilibrium by mixing the waters. But maybe the differences in water temperatures may result in stronger currents that mix the waters and this may result in fewer and less heavy storms. Future will tell. Also, the melting of the pole ice will almost certainly result in changed currents of which we don't know the effect yet although it may prevent oceans become too acid.
And this may also affect temperature above land that again has effects above and in oceans. Indeed, oceans are our benefactors but can as well destroy. Heavy storms transform the earth's surface (e.g. storms can break down coastlines and thus change currents) until a new equilibrium is reached. And for mother Earth, what is a human if it misbehaves? Nothing. We are born to die but believe we have a mission; still, in the end we don't even know we were ever born and what happened with our off-spring although we can always try to make the most of our existence on this planet by doing good to others and to ourselves. I don't think our planet will mourn when we disappear, she will simply continue her journey with or without life until one day planet Earth itself is destroyed, by the Sun or another external or internal event and that was it. Her pieces will spread and can be used by other planets or disappear in emptiness, whatever. Still, it is interesting to know what may happen.
The warmer the climate, the more molecules are released so they can start mixing to have a greater effect. And thus, during climate change, the cooling of the planet may be larger. Still, the article also describes that sometimes things can go wrong. E.g. in the past the planet became too hot and this was followed by 'iceball planet' as during the warm period CO2-loving organisms were flourishing while rocks reacted easier with CO2, removing too much CO2 from the planet so temperatures plummeted although certain bacteria survived in ice. In these cold temperatures, less CO2 was removed from the air while volcanoes released CO2 and temperatures rose and life flourished again. This takes very long but life worked together with the planet to restore favourable conditions.
And it seems our mother Earth even protects her children against violence coming from space such as the sun (New Scientist, 15 March 2014, "Earth raises shield against sun's fury", p10) although when she is angry she abandons everyone.
And of course, this is not all: for instance, in spring the air contains more moisture than during summer in a cooler environment and thus there will be more rain even when plants produce few if any of the molecules that will protect them against heat, as there is no need to protect themselves yet. More details will emerge when more results are published, and everything together will probably result in many large publications on the internet, much longer and better than this article to explain the weather and the many interactions. Indeed, the above shows that both living and death organisms work together to create the right conditions for life on our mother, planet Earth. Of course, I can be wrong.