National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 1990

Biological removal of dimethyl sulphide from sea water

Kiene, R.P., and T.S. Bates

Nature, 345(6277), 702–705, doi: 10.1038/345702a0 (1990)

Dimethyl sulphide (DMS) is an important sulphur-containing trace gas in the atmosphere. It is present in oceanic surface waters at concentrations sufficient to sustain a considerable net flux of DMS from the oceans to the atmosphere, estimated to comprise nearly half of the global biogenic input of sulphur to the atmosphere. DMS emitted from the oceans may be a precursor of tropospheric aerosols and of cloud condensation nuclei in the remote marine atmosphere, thereby affecting the Earth's radiative balance and thus its climate. Relatively little is known, however, about the biogeochemical and physical processes that control the concentration of DMS in sea water. Here we present data from incubation experiments, carried out at sea, which show that DMS is removed by microbial activity. In the eastern, tropical Pacific Ocean, DMS turnover is dominated by biological processes, with turnover times for biological DMS removal generally more than ten (3-430) times faster than turnover by ventilation to the atmosphere. Thus biological consumption of DMS seems to be a more important factor than atmospheric exchange in controlling DMS concentrations in the ocean, and hence its flux to the atmosphere. These results have significant implications for climate feedback models involving DMS emissions, and highlight the importance of the microbial food web in oceanic DMS cycling.

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