Ocean biology alters the chemical composition of sea spray in ways that influence their ability to form clouds over the ocean. That's the conclusion of a team of scientists using a new approach to study tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols that can influence climate by absorbing or reflecting sunlight and seeding clouds.
"After many decades of attempting to understand how the ocean impacts the atmosphere and clouds above it, it became clear a new approach was needed to investigate the complex ocean-atmosphere systemso moving the chemical complexity of the ocean to the laboratory represented a major advance that will enable many new studies to be performed," said Kimberly Prather, Distinguished Chair in Atmospheric Chemistry at the University of California, San Diego and director of the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment, who led the team of more than 30 scientists involved in this project. They report their findings in the early, online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of April 22.
Tiny air bubbles form in the ocean when waves break and then rise to the surface and burst, releasing gases and aerosols into the atmosphere. This study demonstrates how sea spray aerosols come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes with chemical complexity ranging from simple salts to complex biological mixtures to bacterial cells.
For decades, scientists have been studying how their chemical make-up affects their ability to take up water, seed clouds, and react in the atmosphere. It is has been difficult to isolate and study marine aerosols in the real world, however, because aerosols from other sources overwhelm field measurements.
"Once the ocean-atmosphere system was isolated, we can systematically probe how changes in the seawater due to biological activity affect the composition and climate properties of the sea spray aerosol," said Prather, a professor in the Depar
|Contact: Susan Brown|
University of California - San Diego