Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
Tuesday, February 18, 2020

New Chemical to Spur Reexamination of Marine Sulfur Cycle and Climate Models

Compound discovered during historic airborne research mission

Marine clouds off the coast of Baja, Mexico from the NASA DC-8 .

The discovery of a novel sulfur compound during a 2017 NASA airborne research campaign will likely spur a scientific reassessment of a fundamental marine chemical cycle which drives the formation of oceanic clouds that play a key role in moderating climate, scientists said. 

The chemical, dubbed hydroperoxymethyl thioformate (or HPMTF), was discovered by NOAA scientist Patrick Veres while monitoring air samples being analyzed by a new NOAA Chemical Ionization Mass Spectrometer on board NASA’s instrumented DC-8 flying laboratory. The discovery was made on the third of four legs of the NASA Atmospheric Tomography campaign, known as ATom for short, in September 2017. Observations on the final leg in May 2018 confirmed the finding.

A paper describing the discovery and its impact was published today by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Several CIRES scientists are co-authors on the paper. 

“Our new mass spectrometer enabled us to see a sulfur compound no one had identified in the atmosphere before,” said Veres, the paper’s lead author. “This is a significant development in our understanding of the marine sulfur cycle. It tells us our knowledge is incomplete and we have some work to do to better predict the influence of the marine sulfur cycle on our changing climate.”

Read more at NOAA Research