Sea spray bubbles may be tiny, but they have a big impact on climate and no two are the same.
Sea spray holds tremendous power beyond its ability to drench beachgoers. Sea spray aerosol — the vapor produced by the spray’s bursting bubbles — helps to connect the world’s oceans to the atmosphere and affects climate. The aerosol’s components can travel hundreds of miles, and have even been found in the middle of the US, far away from any ocean.
New research published in the journal Chem has identified yet another unique aspect of sea spray: No two bubbles within its foamy whiteness are the same. Every element, from trapped gases to particulate matter, can differ from one bubble to the next.
Senior author Vicki Grassian said sea spay is produced through a bubble bursting mechanism that releases particles into the air as well as gases, such as nitrogen and oxygen, which are the main components of air. Grassian is co- co-director of the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment at the University of California, San Diego.
“Other gases at much smaller concentrations can also get into the air,” she said. “In our study, we focused on the particles.”
Some of these small particles come from salts, fatty acids, carbohydrates, molecules secreted by microscopic ocean plants known as phytoplankton, and bacteria that feed on these tiny plants. The “smell” of the ocean is largely the odors given off by these many components.