Next time you're at the beach take a deep, long sniff: That special coastal scent might not last forever. While you're at it, put on some extra sunscreen: As that smell dwindles, cloud cover could, too.
The unique oceanside smell that flows over your olfactory organs is loaded with sulfur -- dimethylsulfide, to be exact, or DMS. It's produced when phytoplankton decompose. And it's a fragrant compound that's as special as it smells: In the atmosphere it reacts to produce sulfuric acid, which aids in the formation of clouds.
But it's a smell that's endangered by climate change. Experiments have linked the rising acidity of the world's oceans to falling levels of DMS. A paper published online Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change warns that ocean acidification could reduce DMS emissions by about one-sixth in 2100 compared with pre-industrial levels.
Clouds do more for us than just dispense quenching rain and snow: They also reflect light and heat away from the earth, helping to keep temperatures down.