What do you see when you look out over the Pacific Ocean? One time, I saw a colorful sunset with promise of a green flash. Another time, I saw a pod of dolphins jumping along the coastline. Now, I see the opportunity to dive deep into chemistry and the vast complexity of the atmosphere and ocean.
Microscopic marine algae, called phytoplankton, turn carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into different chemicals. Some of these chemicals store energy, while others may be incorporated into cell walls. An individual phytoplankton lives only a few days, and ultimately returns these chemicals back into the ocean. Some of these newly formed chemicals accumulate on the ocean surface, similar to oil rising to the surface of a puddle. The chemicals at the ocean surface can be transferred back into the atmosphere as sea spray particles when waves crash. Once in the atmosphere, these particles interact with sunlight, act as seeds for clouds and ice, and undergo chemical reactions that can alter these properties.
In the Sea Spray Chemistry And Particle Evolution Experiment (called SeaSCAPE for short), dozens of talented, dedicated, and inspiring scientists are working tirelessly to study sea spray particle chemistry, transformations, and impacts on the environment. Sea spray particles are collected onto carefully cleaned filters and then shipped to the University of Iowa where we analyze the naturally occurring and man-made chemicals. Other particles first undergo chemical reactions, similar to those that occur in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight and oxidants, and are then collected. In this case, we examine how reactions alter the chemistry of sea spray particles.
Our journey only begins this summer and will be followed by years of chemical measurements, discussions, and research collaborations.
Written by: Betsy Stone, Associate Professor, University of Iowa
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).