A team of top-level atmospheric chemistry boffins from France and Germany say they have identified a new process by which vast amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted into the atmosphere from the sea – a process which was unknown until now, meaning that existing climate models do not take account of it.
The effect of VOCs in the air is to cool the climate down, and thus climate models used today predict more warming than can actually be expected. Indeed, global temperatures have actually been stable for more than fifteen years, a circumstance which was not predicted by climate models and which climate science is still struggling to assmilate.
In essence, the new research shows that a key VOC, isoprene, is not only produced by living organisms (for instance plants and trees on land and plankton in the sea) as had previously been assumed. It is also produced in the “microlayer” at the top of the ocean by the action of sunlight on floating chemicals – no life being necessary. And it is produced in this way in very large amounts.
According to an announcement just issued by the German government’s Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research:
Atmospheric chemists from France and Germany, however, can now show that isoprene can also be formed without biological sources in the surface film of the oceans by sunlight and so explain the large discrepancy between field measurements and models. The new identified photochemical reaction is therefore important to improve the climate models.
Global models at the moment assume total emissions of isoprene from all sources – trees, plants, plankton, the lot – of around 1.9 megatons per year. But, according to the new research, the newly discovered “abiotic” process releases as much as 3.5 megatons on its own – which “could explain the recent disagreements” between models and reality.