In a study published today in ACS Central Science, a research team led by University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry professor Timothy Bertram peels back the mysteries of the structures of tiny aerosol particles at the surface of the ocean.
The work shows how the particles' chemical composition influences their abilities to take in moisture from the air, which indicates whether the particle will help to form a cloud -- a key to many basic problems in climate prediction.
In order to investigate sea spray particles formed at the ocean-air boundary in nature, researchers used a 33-meter-long wave channel to replicate waves found in nature. They filled the wave channel, which is located at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, with seawater from the ocean.
Courtesy of Christina McCluskey
To understand the Earth's climate, scientists must consider and measure both human-made environmental pollutants and naturally occurring processes that influence how much energy the planet absorbs from the sun or radiates back into space. One naturally occurring process that plays a big role in this delicate balance is the formation of clouds.
Clouds are made of tiny droplets of water. It has long been known that the droplets that make up clouds form around tiny nuclei -- grains of dust, salt or even microbial life.
Clouds help reflect solar energy back to space, but the process for a particle to seed a cloud can change depending on the natural setting. A particle must take up water from its surrounding environment in order to seed a cloud, but the particle's chemical composition may be very uniform or very diverse, affecting its ability to do so.
Bertram's group focuses on areas where chemistry significantly affects climate or the environment. And because oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface, the UW-Madison researcher has focused on the ocean surface in order to better understand an important piece of the larger climate picture.
'While the emission of particulates from the ocean isn't nearly as strong as that from trucks, the majority of the Earth's surface is not covered by trucks,' Bertram says. 'The ocean may be a diffuse source (of these particles), but it's a very important source.'
In their new work, Bertram and colleagues' investigation began in a laboratory-based wave channel, which allowed them to replicate the types of sea spray aerosol particles found near ocean waves. They also studied particles from the actual ocean-air boundary. By mimicking ocean waves and sea spray in the wave channel, the researchers could gain insight into the structures and cloud-formation potential of particles in the open ocean.
The team then developed a new method that categorizes a diverse population of aerosol particles based on their likelihood of taking up water from the surrounding environment and forming a cloud. Previous approaches yielded one number to assess sea spray aerosol particles' ability to form clouds. The new method, however, provides a more precise measure by indicating the percentages of particles in each category, thus more properly accounting for particle-to-particle variability in cloud formation.
'The advancement is that this is general,' Bertram says. 'It's a framework people can use broadly to look at this question of the diversity of particulates and how they impact cloud formation.'
Collaborators include other researchers affiliated with the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment at the University of California, San Diego; the University of Iowa; the Scripps Institution of Oceanography; and the University of California, Davis, as well as a researcher from NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. Steven Schill, a graduate student in the Bertram group, is first author on the new study.
The National Science Foundation supported the work through the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment.
Timothy Bertram | EurekAlert!
What makes corals sick?
11.12.2017 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Marine Tropenforschung (ZMT)
Mars’ atmosphere well protected from the solar wind
08.12.2017 | Schwedischer Forschungsrat - The Swedish Research Council
Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.
To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong
Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...
An interdisciplinary group of researchers interfaced individual bacteria with a computer to build a hybrid bio-digital circuit - Study published in Nature Communications
Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have managed to control the behavior of individual bacteria by connecting them to a...
Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.
The most basic of all physical interactions in nature is that between light and matter. This interaction takes place in attosecond times (i.e. billionths of a...
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
05.12.2017 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
11.12.2017 | Materials Sciences
11.12.2017 | Earth Sciences