National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2012

The case against climate regulation via oceanic phytoplankton sulfur emissions

Quinn, P.K., and T.S. Bates

Nature, 480, 51–56, doi: 10.1038/nature10580 (2011)

More than twenty years ago, a biological regulation of climate was proposed whereby emissions of dimethyl sulphide from oceanic phytoplankton resulted in the formation of aerosol particles that acted as cloud condensation nuclei in the marine boundary layer. In this hypothesis—referred to as CLAW—the increase in cloud condensation nuclei led to an increase in cloud albedo with the resulting changes in temperature and radiation initiating a climate feedback altering dimethyl sulphide emissions from phytoplankton. Over the past two decades, observations in the marine boundary layer, laboratory studies and modelling efforts have been conducted seeking evidence for the CLAW hypothesis. The results indicate that a dimethyl sulphide biological control over cloud condensation nuclei probably does not exist and that sources of these nuclei to the marine boundary layer and the response of clouds to changes in aerosol are much more complex than was recognized twenty years ago. These results indicate that it is time to retire the CLAW hypothesis.

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