LA JOLLA, Calif. — The National Science Foundation will provide UC San Diego with $20 million for research and education on how interactions between air and sea alter the chemistry of the atmosphere, thus influencing the climate, the school announced Monday.
The grant will support the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment, a UCSD-led organization involving nine universities. Participants will try to understand how aerosol particles — like tiny bits of salt to carbon compounds, biological molecules and microorganisms — influence the environment after they’re released from the ocean.
“At UC San Diego, we tackle complex, pressing societal issues that have global impact,” Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said. “With this new award, we will build on our legacy of excellence in climate research and atmospheric chemistry that began with our founder, Roger Revelle, who helped bring the world’s attention to global warming.”
Variations in the temperature, wind and water chemistry of oceans, and the life within it, makes it difficult to gather measurements and nearly impossible to conduct controlled experiments, according to UCSD. Researchers have tried to make it easier by capturing the interaction between the ocean and atmosphere in a laboratory setting.
They have state-of-the art instruments arrayed along a 33-meter-long flume filled with water piped directly from the Pacific Ocean in order to measure the chemical properties of sea spray generated by breaking waves. Both seawater and the air above, enclosed by a dome, can be modified and measured, allowing the researchers to isolate individual factors to determine their influence on the chemistry of aerosols, and therefore the climate.
In the lab setting, human factors like pollutants, temperature changes or increased carbon dioxide can be entered into the mix and measured, UCSD chemistry professor Kimberly Prather said.
Findings from the experiments are expected to improve the ability to predict regional climate conditions and manage water resources.