When the researchers turned up the heat, the polyps produced even more DMSP. Levels increased by 76 percent when the coral suffered in uncomfortably warm water.
Higher surface water temperatures threaten corals globally, along with declining water quality, ocean acidification, and other menaces. Coral die-offs could cause DMSP levels to spike at first and then crash.
ANALYSIS: Unprotected Coral Harbor Herpes
DMSP can serve as the seed, or nucleus, for cloud formation. So alterations in levels of the chemical could influence cloud cover.
"Cloud production, especially in the tropics, is an important regulator of climate - because clouds shade the Earth and reflect much of the sun's heat back into space," said lead author Jean-Baptiste Raina, a marine scientist at AIMS, in a press release. "If fewer clouds are produced, less heat will be reflected - which ultimately will lead to warmer sea surface temperatures."
With warmer surface waters heat-stressing and ultimately bleaching corals, this could create a negative feedback loop with the potential to deodorize the ocean.