The result is a negative feedback loop in which higher temperatures lead to an increase in concentrations of natural aerosols that have a cooling effect on the atmosphere, said Pauli Paasonen, a researcher at the University of Finland and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
"Plants, by reacting to changes in temperature, also moderate these changes," study leader Paasonen said in a release from IIASA headquarters in Austria.
Plants release gases that tend to stick to aerosol particles, growing them into the larger-sized particles that reflect sunlight and also serve as the basis for cloud droplets, the researchers found.
"Everyone knows the scent of the forest," Helsinki researcher Ari Asmi said. "That scent is made up of these gases."
As temperatures warm and plants consequently release more of these gases, the concentrations of particles active in cloud formation increase, reflecting sunlight back into space and cooling the planet.
"Aerosol effects on climate are one of the main uncertainties in climate models," Paasonen said. "Understanding this mechanism could help us reduce those uncertainties and make the models better."