At the simó·lab we aim to investigate the production of labile substances, reactive trace gases and aerosol precursors by marine organisms in the world’s oceans, near polar ice and in coral reef ecosystems. We focus most of our research on understanding the role of biogenic sulfur in the web, deciphering the chemical talking of microbes, describing and modeling biogenic gels and volatiles in the surface ocean, and connecting oceans, aerosols and clouds.

The simó·lab team is not only committed to make the invisible visible to the expert eye, but to communicate to society our discoveries and provide public and educational awareness on the beautiful complexity of the functioning of our planet, influencing responsible behaviour of humankind.

Marine Microbes into Climate

Oceanic microbes are remnants of Earth’s history – this is how life began and spread. They are invisible to the naked eye, although overall they are so abundant they change the colour of the ocean and can be spotted from satellites.

This invisible life metabolises elements, breathes and generates wastes, and by doing so has shaped much of the functioning of the planet over billions of years. Indeed it still does, e.g., by exchanging chemicals with the atmosphere: removing or releasing greenhouse gases; releasing gaseous essential elements for life, such as sulphur and iodine, and shipping them back to continents that otherwise would have run out of them through erosion; regulating ozone concentration; or making airborne particles (aerosols) that seed cloud formation and brightness, thereby regulating how much sunlight reaches the ocean. It is on this natural setting that humans have perturbed the Earth so profoundly that some advocate we entered a new geological era, the Anthropocene.

We do not yet fully understand the ecophysiological mechanisms that make marine microbes produce reactive trace gases and aerosol precursors, and how important these mechanisms are for the pelagic ecosystem. We have seen that microbes communicate among themselves using chemical signals, similarly to how marine animals use olfactory sensing to forage. We have also seen that oxidative stress drives the production of reactive trace gases and gel-like substances by micro and macroalgae. We have observed that underwater solar radiation plays a critical role through photobiological processes and photochemical reactions, and that trace gases are by-products of tight biogeochemical cycling within planktonic food webs. We are discovering the genes involved, and deciphering their activation switches. And we are finding old and new marine aerosol precursors and tracking their paths in the atmosphere all the way to clouds and climate.

Research in Focus


Simó R. (2004). From cells to globe: approaching the dynamics of DMS(P) in the ocean at multiple scales. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 61(5): 673-684.

Galí M., R. Simó (2015). A meta-analysis of oceanic DMS and DMSP cycling processes: disentangling the summer paradox. Global Biogeochemical Cycles. 29.

Vallina S.M., R. Simó, M. Manizza (2007). Weak response of oceanic dimethylsulfide to upper mixing shoaling induced by global warmingProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 104: 16004-16009

Rafel Simó

I am interested in ocean biosphere-atmosphere interactions in the Earth System. For nearly 30 years, I have investigated the biological and environmental actors that govern the production and emission of volatile sulfur from the ocean, which I have recently extended to other volatile compounds and gel-like substances. I like to look at both sides of the ocean-atmosphere interface and follow the path of oceanic emissions into aerosols and clouds.

I am also interested in chemical communication between marine organisms, and how this communication shapes trophic interactions and symbioses. 

For my research I count on a network of collaborators and use a broad array of methodologies, from “single-cell biogeochemistry” and omics, and trace gas and aerosol measurements, through experimental plankton physiology and ecology, all the way up to satellite analyses and modeling of the global ocean and atmosphere. I have conducted fieldwork in the Arctic, Antarctica, across the Atlantic, tropical Pacific and Mediterranean Sea.

Institute of Marine Sciences, Barcelona
Telf. +34 932309590