Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the headspace of bubble chambers containing branches of live coral in filtered reef seawater were analysed using gas chromatography with mass spectrometry (GC-MS). When the coral released mucus it was a source of dimethyl sulfide (DMS) and isoprene; however, these VOCs were not emitted to the chamber headspace from mucus-free coral. This finding, which suggests that coral is an intermittent source of DMS and isoprene, was supported by the observation of occasional large pulses of atmospheric DMS (DMSa) over Heron Island reef on the southern Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Australia, in the austral winter. The highest DMSa pulse (320 ppt) was three orders of magnitude less than the DMS mixing ratio (460 ppb) measured in the headspace of a dynamically purged bubble chamber containing a mucus-coated branch of Acropora aspera indicating that coral reefs can be strong point sources of DMSa. Static headspace GC-MS analysis of coral fragments identified mainly DMS and seven other minor reduced sulfur compounds including dimethyl disulfide, methyl mercaptan, and carbon disulfide, while coral reef seawater was an indicated source of methylene chloride, acetone, and methyl ethyl ketone. The VOCs emitted by coral and reef seawater are capable of producing new atmospheric particles < 15 nm diameter as observed at Heron Island reef. DMS and isoprene are known to play a role in low-level cloud formation, so aerosol precursors such as these could influence regional climate through a sea surface temperature regulation mechanism hypothesized to operate over the GBR.
Swan, HB, Crough, RW, Vaattovaara, P, Jones, GB, Deschaseaux, ESM, Eyre, BD, Miljevic, B & Ristovski, ZD 2016, 'Dimethyl sulfide and other biogenic volatile organic compound emissions from branching coral and reef seawater: potential sources of secondary aerosol over the Great Barrier Reef', Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry, pp. 1-26.
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