Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers turn to the ocean to help unravel the mysteries of cloud formation

10.06.2015

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.

Contact:

Timothy Bertram
tbertram@chem.wisc.edu
608-890-3422

Libby Dowdall
ldowdall@chem.wisc.edu
608-265-9814

http://www.wisc.edu 

Timothy Bertram | EurekAlert!

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology
22.06.2017 | Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

nachricht How reliable are shells as climate archives?
21.06.2017 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Marine Tropenforschung (ZMT)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>