Perspective of IMPACTS from a middle school student

I am a 12 year old boy who is going into 7th grade at the San Diego Jewish Academy. I have two siblings named Rebecca and Jacob and a mother and father. Also, I have a pet dog named Rocky. I like playing basketball and watching shows like Sports Center, football, and basketball games.

This summer, I have been lucky enough to join the Scripps Institution of Oceanography for a volunteer chemistry week, July 21 – 25, 2014. During the start of the week, I worked with the wave machine. In the wave machine, we create waves, conduct experiments and detect particles. Some experiments included detecting particles while others needed very high technology. The main reason for having the wave machine is to have a simulation of sea spray. Sea spray is a big factor in world climate as it controls how many clouds form. I learned this week that the prediction on the amount that comes out of the ocean ranges from one to 1 trillion.  CAICE scientists are trying to learn how chemistry controls the amount of sea spray that makes its way into the atmosphere.

Most of the week, I was in the Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling (MESOM) lab. There are two freezers in the lab – one is set at -80* C and the other is setAaron at -20* C. There is ice in the freezers and also samples or dyes used for detecting bacteria. One of the days, I took a ride on the truck that collects ocean water from the dock. Once the ocean water sample is collected, it is then brought back to the Hydraulics Lab (H Lab). We use the water in the wave machine, for outside tanks, and for other scientific purposes. The water we collect is filtered to the point where only viruses and bacteria remain in the water.

One important chemistry concept I learned about is the difference between a particle and a molecule. A molecule is just a mixture of atoms whereas a particle is more like a big mixture of molecules. For example, a molecule would be CO2 or H2O but a particle would contain billions of molecules mixed together. One thing that I learned a lot about are aerosols (many particles) which are a big question because of people predicting how many there are and because we don’t understand the climate effects from a single aerosol. An aerosol, also a particle and created by “ocean foam”, gets released into the air and carries bacteria and viruses up to six miles high into our atmosphere!!

Phytoplankton is a small plant that floats around in the ocean and is in the bottom of the food chain. It gets concentrated in a special layer of the ocean called the “sea surface microlayer.” Phytoplankton is important to our earth because it feeds the entire ocean and produces much of the oxygen we breathe.

The work conducted in the MESOM and H Labs is important because it will help us better understand our climate and the world. I really enjoyed volunteering in Dr. Prather’s lab and working with all of the graduate students. I learned a lot during my week and hope to come back next summer.

Aaron Bronstein

San Diego Jewish Academy


A High School Student’s Perspective of Chemistry in the Real World

As a high school student entering a professional lab setting for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect to encounter this summer as an intern working as part of the CAICE IMPACTS study. I am an incoming senior at Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego, and have taken AP science classes at my school, but I have never been in an environment such as this. With many scientists from various backgrounds and educational focuses, problems were identified and solved much more quickly than if each person was working alone in a lab. Similarly in the classroom we are able to collaborate with our peers and teacher but rarely are we able to ask advice from students of other scientific backgrounds! The Hydraulics Lab has been crazy and busy for the past 6 weeks with each scientist conducting their own experiment and showing care and passion for their work, which is something that I admire and hope to encounter as I continue to study as an undergraduate next year. Foam DecayOne small project I was involved in worked to qualitatively measure changes in sea foam in the wave flume over a short period of time. The amount of sea foam in the wave flume is directly related to the breakdown of the algal bloom. To the left is a series of images taken of July 23, 28, 29, and 30. We can make a qualitative guess that the foam is decreasing over time.  This foam produces sea spray aerosol particles which seed clouds over the ocean and thus understanding its evolution is extremely important for our planet.  Over the past 6 weeks I have not only learned about aerosol chemistry and links to ocean biology, but I have also learned more about the scientific process and the benefits of having great minds working together to solve a problem.

Namrita Baru, Canyon Crest Academy


Chemical mechanisms at the air-ocean interface

As a chemist, engaged in the study of climate, I often ask myself and my colleagues:

At what point do chemical mechanisms overtake biological and physical process and assume control over environmental systems.

To answer this question and ultimately study chemical mechanisms in the environment, the biological and physical landscapes need to not only be defined, but controlled. There is arguably no place in nature that is more chemically, biologically, and physically complex than the surface of the ocean. This microcosm, is physically separated from the bulk ocean due to the suppression of turbulence at the interface, while being a reservoir for the various end products of biological mechanisms in the surface ocean. As such, a unique chemical environment is established in the top 100s of nanometers of the ocean surface; one that is heavily enriched in insoluble organic molecules and where transport is limited by molecular diffusion. This interface displays extreme spatio-temporal heterogeneity around Earth’s planet and represents a whopping 71% of the surface of the Earth. As part of IMPACTS 2014, CAICE is generating this mesocosm in a controlled fashion so that we can study chemical processes.

Again, as a chemist engaged in climate, my group and I set out to ask chemically specific, but relevant questions, such as:

What is the net loss rate of trace gases such as dinitrogen pentoxide, a critical ingredient in photochemical ozone production, to the ocean surface?

Schematic depiction of the reactive uptake of dinitrogen pentoxide (N2O5) at the surface of the ocean (top 100 nm)

Mechanistically, N2O5 readily hydrolyzes upon being accommodated into a liquid. This process is fast. So fast that N2O5 is fully dissociated into NO2+ and NO3 within tens of nanometers of the air-sea interface, well within the rich organic film of the sea-surface microlayer. As a result, the fate of NO2+ and the potential for making chlorinated products such as ClNO2 is set by the concentration and speciation of organic layer. During IMPACT 2014, we are collecting surface sea water throughout the course of the bloom in the wave channel. We then take these samples back to the laboratory where we flow trace N2O5 over the surface and measure the yield of ClNO2 from the surface waters. The ClNO2 yield provides a direct probe for the fate of NO2+ in the SSML and the ability of surface waters to activate chloride in seawater into photolabile chlorine compounds that can eventual alter the composition of the atmosphere. The results learned here will serve as a bridge between experiments done throughout CAICE using molecular beams of N2O5 as well as studies of single particle chemical transformation following trace gas uptake. It will be an exciting year!


Timothy Bertram, Associate Director of CAICE, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, San Diego


Head in the Clouds

As an incoming graduate student working on my first independent project, I had no idea what to expect from the CAICE IMPACTS chemistry intensive. I quickly found out that this was going to be one of the most challenging but also most rewarding experiences I’ve had so far.

I am an incoming student in Dr. Tim Bertram’s group and am studying cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) activity. One of the least well understood aspects of climate modeling is the indirect effect of aerosols on cloud formation and lifetime. CCN are a subset of aerosol particles which are capable of having water vapor condense onto them. An increase in CCN concentrations means more cloud droplets being formed in the atmosphere as well as longer cloud lifetimes. These clouds can then reflect sunlight causing cooling of the atmosphere.image001

Salt particles are especially great at serving as CCN because of their ability to uptake water (just think how well salt dissolves a pot of water). Organic type particles are more hydrophobic (not attracted to water) meaning they are poor CCN species. When one thinks of the composition of seawater they almost always think about salt, however during a phytoplankton bloom and death a substantial amount of organic matter is released. What I hope to study is how the CCN activity of sea-spray aerosols changes with the course of the bloom and its release of organics.

As we approach the last few days of the intensive I am very thankful for the opportunity to contribute to this research and to work with so many great scientists in our CCI (Chemical Center of Innovation). I look forward to building on this research and this experience for a long time to come.


Gordon Novak, Graduate Student, Bertram Group at UC San Diego, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry


The study of ocean – atmosphere interactions

When waves crash and underwater bubbles burst at the surface, tiny particles are ejected from the ocean into the atmosphere. As the water evaporates away, a particle is left behind that we call sea spray aerosol. Our research through the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment (CAICE) is focused on understanding the physical, chemical, and biological processes that affect the composition sea spray aerosol. Knowledge of this composition is critical to understanding the effect of sea spray in the atmosphere, such as how it reacts and how it affects cloud formation.

Marine Aerosol Reference Tanks (MART) provide a unique opportunity to capture sea spray aerosol in the laboratory

During the IMPACTS field experiment at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, we are collecting samples of ocean water, sea surface microlayer, sea foam, and sea spray aerosol from the wave flume and Marine Aerosol Reference Tanks (MART). We transport these samples back to our laboratories at the University of Iowa, where we measure individual organic molecules and inorganic ions. We use liquid chromatography (LC for short) that allows us to separate compounds of interest from the complex environmental sample. Conductivity, electrochemistry, and mass spectrometry provide sensitive methods of detection that allow us to quantify trace amounts of compounds. By determining the distribution of chemicals across the phases of the ocean and atmosphere relative to one another, we can characterize the selective processes that lead to organic molecule enrichment in sea spray aerosol. Collaborating in the IMPACTS field study means that we can combine our knowledge of chemistry with evolving ocean biology and the physical properties of the sea spray aerosol.

CAICE researchers (clockwise) Hosiana Abewe, Olga Laskina, Jon Trueblood, Thilina Jayarathne, and Grace de Dieu Irumva testing a laboratory experiment on the measurement of surface reflectivity (a.k.a. albedo)

In addition to conducting research, CAICE provides an opportunity to engage with students and the community in learning about climate science. I had the pleasure of teaching at the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) while at UCSD earlier this month. I worked with undergraduate and graduate students to design and adapt curricula about global change and climate for high school students. Together, we explored how the earth’s surface affects our energy balance with the sun, how some gases cause greenhouse warming, and how different molecules interact with solar energy.

I am thrilled to be part of a dynamic research center that combines cutting-edge research, innovation, and education about climate science. Through this summer’s IMPACTS experiment, we have new capabilities to understand complex environmental processes through intricately-designed laboratory experiments.

Elizabeth Stone, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Iowa


Sea water; is it only Salt?

I am a third year graduate student from Prof. Betsy Stone research group, University of Iowa. It was a tremendous opportunity for me to participate in IMPACTS (Investigation into Marine Particle Chemistry and Transfer Science) summer 2014 intensive campaign at the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment (CAICE). These days SIO (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), UCSD is filled with budding atmospheric scientists who are exploring the largest indoor phytoplankton bloom in the world. It is awesome to see everybody is working hard towards the same goal day and night. I am so proud of myself for being a member in this team who are “IMPACTed” by the sea spray aerosols. Originally, I am from Sri Lanka, the island of paradise in Indian Ocean. Being an individual from a small island which is just 270 miles long and 140 miles wide with 800 miles of beaches I was never amazed by seeing the ocean. After I joined the CAICE project I got an opportunity to investigate the importance of ocean to atmospheric science and climate change which changed my perspective about the ocean.

Wimage001e think the ocean is full of salty water and the best place for a day out. However, ocean water is not only salt; it contain thousands of organic compounds. These organic compounds are results of phytoplankton and bacterial activities. Breaking waves on the ocean surface generate splash water droplets and air bubbles that scavenge sea salt and organic matter from the sea surface to the atmosphere. These small particles are called sea spray aerosols (SSA) which has important effects in cloud formation and earth’s radiative balance. However, all the organic compounds that can be seen in sea water is not transferred to sea spray aerosol. Some of these compounds get enriched in upper most layer of the ocean (sea surface micro layer) and selectively transferred in to the atmosphere. This selectively transfer mechanism is poorly studied and yet to be fully understood. Therefore, during this study I am collecting sea water, sea surface micro layer and sea spray aerosols and analyze them for organic molecules such as carbohydrates, carboxylic acids, proteins and lipopolysaccharides to understand the selective transfer mechanism of these organic compounds in the ocean to the atmosphere.

Thilina Jayarathne, Research Assistant, Stone Research Group, Department of Chemistry at University of Iowa.


DNA in the Clouds

As a third year graduate student in a biochemistry lab, I don’t often get experiences like this. A giant wave-generating tank is novel to me and quite a bit different than the pipet-land I usually live in. Walking into the transformed hydraulics lab always leaves an impression on me. The facility has come alive. It is crammed full with buzzing whirring equipment, and buzzing, whirring people. Scientists and students from all over the country all pointed at a common goal. Every time I walk in there, I step back and really understand what I am a part of. I’m proud. This experience hasn’t always been easy, but it has been rewarding. Certainly, the unwavering dedication of everyone down at the waveflume day to day is truly inspiring.

JMM blog pic[5]
Author Jennifer Michaud in the lab extracting DNA

I am not the only biochemist/biologist involved in IMPACT, but definitely my work stands apart from what others are doing. The name of my game is DNA. My efforts are to collect cells from the waveflume and extract their DNA, which will then be used to identify all the species present.   I would like to characterize not only what microbes are there, but also how they change across a bloom and relate to a natural ocean phytoplankton bloom. More specifically, I am interested to learn which species transfer from bulk to the sea surface to aerosols (airborne particles) and how this changes in conjunction with the growth of phytoplankton and correspondingly bacteria. My highest hope is that certain phenomenon, like ice nuclei, particle types, and interesting organic molecules, might be able to be connected to the predominance of a species or group at the time of their occurrence.

To do this I collect water samples. Harvesting cells is done by vacuum filtration under sterile conditions serially with different sized filters to fractionate the samples into phytoplankton, bacteria, and viruses and vesicles. The major hurdle to my sampling is having enough. Cells are not overly abundant in the marine environment and many liters of water are generally required for DNA analysis. Here we are trying to optimize our methods so that that we get as much DNA from minimal sample amounts so that other analyses are not disrupted. Additionally, sampling cells from aerosols poses its separate challenges. We are using a SpinCon PAS 450-10A Wet Cyclone Portable Air Samplers (Sceptor Industries, Kansas City, MO) to concentrate cells in the aerosols. This instrument has previously been used to sample air above a NY city high-rise and other sites for microbes. The instrument pumps aerosols into a glass chamber containing buffer creating a vortex in which cells are trapped which then are collected by our standard methods. DNA is isolated using an optimized phenol chloroform extraction. Then our precious samples will be sent away for sequencing to identify species.

Yesterday was big sample collection day for me. Lots of filtration. Today, I am extracting DNA from the aerosol samples. I hope they have lots!

Jennifer Michaud, Graduate Student, Burkart Group, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, UC San Diego


Approaching the Finish Line…

Although it was a ton of hard work, I have enjoyed being part of the CAICE (Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment) IMPACTS (Investigation into Marine Particle Chemistry and Transfer Science) 2014 intensive. Professors and students from all over the country are gathered here to better understand the link between ocean biology and the composition and physical properties of particles emitted from sea spray.

10457561_692410517491553_292097329586178028_n[2]I am a 3rd year graduate student in Chris Cappa’s group at UC Davis. I came to UC San Diego to investigate how much these particles grow as a result of humidification using a cavity ring-down spectrometer (CRD). The larger these particles grow, the more light they scatter. By scattering solar radiation, these particles cool the planet and are therefore important for understanding the Earth’s climate. Particles emitted from sea spray take up a lot of water because they are mostly composed of salt. However, the biology of the ocean impacts what these particles are made of and, by making the particle less “salty,” can decrease the how much water they take up.

The "beach" area of the wave flume in the Hydraulic Lab at SIO
The “beach” area of the wave flume in the Hydraulic Lab at SIO

My goal is to quantify how changes in particle composition due to biological processes in seawater influence how much these particles grow due to humidification.
During this unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiment, everyone I have worked with has been incredibly positive and fun to be around. At the end of IMPACTS, I will leave with both exciting data and many new friends.


Sara Forestieri, Graduate Student, Cappa Group, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Davis


Collaboration and teamwork are a key to great discoveries

Dozens of instruments from many universities, this is what it takes to do real science! Nowadays, great discoveries are not possible within one laboratory working in isolation. Collaborations of research teams that have various techniques, approaches, and backgrounds from multiple scientific disciplines are necessary for innovations and advances. This summer professors, graduate and undergraduate students from all over the country came to Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego to participate in 2014 NSF Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment (CAICE) IMPACTS (Investigation into Marine PArticle Chemistry and Transfer Science) campaign.

The author, Olga, and her group mate Jon preparing for particle collection on MOUDI

I came from the University of Iowa where I just started my fifth year of graduate school in Dr. Vicki Grassian research group. My area of interest is phase, composition and hygroscopicity of individual sea spray aerosol particles. We collect particles generated during wave breaking and then take them back to Iowa for detailed micro-structural analysis with a variety of microscopic and spectroscopic techniques. Atomic force microscopy is a tool to image the surface of particles at the nanoscale and it is exceptionally noteworthy that it can reveal 3D shape of particles. Scanning electron microscopy and transmission electron microscopy can image particles down to 1 nm resolution and when used with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy can reveal spatial elemental composition of particles. Raman microspectroscopy gives information about vibrations of functional groups thus revealing chemical composition of particles as small as several hundred nanometers. Elemental and molecular composition derived from these techniques can be combined with on-line measurements such as aerosol time-of-flight mass spectrometry to get the most complete information about particles’ composition. All microscopy techniques can be performed in chambers where relative humidity is be controlled and size of particles is monitored using microscope. Therefore, we can detect how particles grow in humid environment. Raman microspectrometer can detect the water in particles spectroscopically and thus can be additionally used to monitor water content of particles as relative humidity changes. It is very important to know how particles interact with water as it determines how particles will interact with light, form clouds and react with trace gases in the atmosphere (which can be fairly humid). Finally, as we learn about the dependence of particles’ properties on their detailed chemical composition we can understand and more importantly predict their properties in the environment better!

As I have already mentioned collaboration is a key for breakthrough research discoveries. Collaboration and teamwork! This picture illustrates teamwork in action where Jon and Olga (author) are putting together stages to collect sea spray aerosol particles. This is a great campaign that unites many research groups and I look forward to analyzing our particles and working with other participating groups to shade more light on marine atmosphere.

Olga Laskina, Research Assistant, Grassian Research Group, Department of Chemistry at University of Iowa


Anotha day, anotha dot

Hello from the UCSD Hydraulics lab! The current time is 00:15, and I’m still a good 2 hours from my pillow. My task between now and zzz’s? Figure out how many ice nucleating particles are in the wave flume.

I am a fourth year graduate student in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University. I work with Dr. Sonia Kreidenweis, Dr. Paul DeMott, Dr. Tom Hill and several others on ice nucleation. We are in La Jolla with IMPACTS because we want to know more about sea spray ice nucleating particles.

What is an ice nucleating particle (INP)? Well, tiny pure water freezes at -40 C. But, we know that ice crystals exist in clouds at much warmer temperatures than -40C. This is because some (ice nucleating) particles serve as catalysts for ice crystal formation. I am here to operate the continuous flow diffusion chamber (CFDC), which counts the number of INP at a range of temperatures (-32C to -15C). We are also working with several other groups on collecting the INP for post analysis that will look at the chemical composition and shapes of the sea spray INP. We are hoping that by measuring INP through the duration of the phytoplankton bloom, we can observe links between sea spray INP (abundance, chemical and physical characteristics) and changes in the sea surface microlayer (see Josh’s post) and bulk water bacteria and phytoplankton counts.

A challenge of this measurement is INP exist in small numbers in the atmosphere. So, we use an aerosol concentrator, which enhances the number of particles that go into the CFDC and therefore we have a better chance of seeing an INP. It’s a very loud process, it’s like a giant vacuum, and takes all the flow from the system…. Hence the late night shift.

Some of us late nighters have started a saying when we leave the lab at 2 am… “Anotha day, anotha dot.” We do a lot of work everyday for what really may be just a “dot” on a graph showing a timeline or a correlation. But, with a month long study and enough dots, we are hopeful that all the dots will tell a story and lead to some interesting discoveries.

Christina McCluskey, PhD candidate, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University