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Biological activity alters the ability of sea spray to seed clouds
Date:4/24/2013

tment of Chemistry and Biochemistry who holds a joint appointment at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

In their studies, seawater is pumped directly from the Pacific Ocean into a specially modified enclosed wave flume in the Hydraulics Laboratory at Scripps Oceanography. By stringently filtering the air within the wave chamber, the team eliminated contamination from other sources allowing them to probe sea spray aerosol directly for the first time after it was produced by breaking waves.

Over five days, the team systematically altered biological communities within the flume by adding various combinations of cultures of marine bacteria and microscopic marine algae, or phytoplankton. Then, as a hydraulic paddle sent waves breaking over an artificial shoal, instruments positioned along the 33 meter long flume measured the chemistry of the seawater, air, and aerosols.

As the seawater changed and bacteria levels increased, the resulting aerosols showed a major change in composition leading to a reduction in their ability to form clouds. In particular, a day after new cultures were added, bacteria levels rose fivefold and cloud-seeding potential fell by about a third. These changes were happening even as the concentration of phytoplankton fell, along with levels of chlorophyll-a, the pigment essential to photosynthesis. This is an important finding because current estimates of biological activity in surface waters of the ocean rely on instruments aboard satellites that measure the color of the sea surface, which changes along with levels of chlorophyll-a.

The findings demonstrate the value of the Center's novel approach for sorting through the interdependent factors governing the effects of the ocean and sea spray on climate.


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Contact: Susan Brown
scinews@ucsd.edu
858-246-0161
University of California - San Diego
Source:Eurekalert

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