Saturday, 30 July 2016


Summer is a lovely time of year.
Weather permitting we shed layers of clothing,spend time outdoors and maybe spend a day at the seaside,  wandering along the edge of the water, building sandcastles, skimming stones and exploring rock pools.
So this summer our blog  is all about the science of spending a day at the beach.

This week we explore the smell of the sea which is so evocative wherever you are on holiday and for many of us is that childhood memory.....
One of the first things you notice when you arrive is that amazing smell. There is nothing quite like the smell of the sea...... salty, clean, fresh, sandy.........
We often think the sea air is healthier for us and of course so bracing!

I don't want to burst your bubble but that distinctive smell has quite a bit to do with seaweed and decay......
It is a sulphurous smell produced seaweed begins to break down and die.........

It is actually hydrogen sulphide produced anaerobically which is toxic but not in the small quantities you find at the edge of the sea, plus  we also produce it as a natural part of our cycle :)

However you can also smell that amazing mix of salty water and sulphur tang when you are on a boat so it can't all be seaweed.

The oceans are full of minute phytoplankton and algae which contain and produce Dimethylsulphoniopropionate (!) DMSP used to regulate osmotic pressure in cells. 

This compound can be broken down by the cells and also by bacteria giving DMS and this has a very distinct smell - that we associate with oceans.
DMS is also involved in cloud formation - just under 10% makes its way to the atmosphere and into clouds.

So a day on the beach maybe wandering along the shoreline smelling the sea
 is really a chemistry lesson!!

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