A new mechanistic approach to sea spray aerosol prediction

Ocean waves

Researchers at Princeton have found a new, more accurate way to predict sea spray aerosol emissions. Predicting sea spray aerosol emissions is a crucial element in improving climate models, as aerosols influence clouds and radiative balance in the atmosphere.

It is very difficult to predict sea spray aerosols due to the constant changes in wind speed, ocean wave properties and water temperature. In research recently published in AGU Advances, Luc Deike, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the high meadows environmental institute, and his coauthors at the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Brandon Reichl and Fabien Paulot, detail a new mechanistic formulation for making these predictions.

The formulation relies on the physics of bubble bursting at the ocean surface, combining knowledge of individual bubble bursting processes, bubble statistics under breaking waves, and distribution of breaking waves. Deike and his coauthors found that their model closely matches observations of sea salt emissions and accounts for changes in wind, waves, and temperature.

This new approach “paves the way for improved modeling of atmospheric processes controlled by aerosols of oceanic origin,” according to Donald Wuebbles in an Editor’s Highlight published in Eos.