(Image by Vicki H. Grassian)

(Image by Vicki H. Grassian)

Did you know that the tiny bubbles that appear on the surface of waves as they break against the seashore help shape our climate? A new study has found the secret behind these bubbles’ atmosphere-changing power: molecules secreted by phytoplankton and tiny bacteria that live on the ocean floor. Sea spray aerosol, which is the most abundant aerosol in the atmosphere, is released when the bubbles on sea waves burst. The aerosols help scatter sunlight and form clouds. Scientists have known about the importance of sea spray in shaping climate, but didn’t know the origin of these atmosphere-influencing properties until the present study. Molecules that plankton and bacteria secrete can become incorporated into the bubbles.The molecules also mix with the chemicals and salts inside the bubbles, rendering them incapable of carrying water from the ocean. This, in turn, affects the way the aerosol interacts with the sun’s rays and influences cloud formation.


Richard E. Cochran, Olga Laskina, Jonathan V. Trueblood, Armando D. Estillore, Holly S. Morris, Thilina Jayarathne, Camille M. Sultana, Christopher Lee, Peng Lin, Julia Laskin, Alexander Laskin, Jacqueline A. Dowling, Zhen Qin, Christopher D. Cappa, Timothy H. Bertram, Alexei V. Tivanski, Elizabeth A. Stone, Kimberly A. Prather, Vicki H. Grassian

Corresponding author:

Vicki Grassian, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, San Diego, US, Email: vhgrassian@ucsd.edu

Original paper published in Chem on May 11, 2017.