New position, new topic: I am now studying carbon-containing molecules
in the ocean (“dissolved organic matter” or “DOM”). The December Scicomm
challenge comes handy to get to know my new topic from all sides.
For an observer at the beach, DOM might change the color of the water,
as it contains many molecules that absorb light.
For bacteria, it is a tasty meal.
Slightly larger (and much larger!) animals in the ocean excrete DOM.
For me as a scientist, it is an astonishing mixture of hundreds of
thousands of different molecules (and we’re still wondering why there is
so much DOM, when bacteria could just eat it all).
For the atmosphere, it is a great way to store carbon from fossil fuel
burning, so the carbon isn’t present as the greenhouse gas CO2 in the air.
For the climate, it is an important carbon reservoir, which potentially
was responsible for warm (little carbon stored in the ocean) and cold
(much carbon stored in the ocean) periods in the history of our planet.