Ocean-Atmosphere Interactions

The atmosphere is primarily comprised of nitrogen and oxygen. Understanding the remaining compounds and gasses, including greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, is critical for addressing air quality concerns. GSO atmospheric chemists utilize airplane-based sensors to measure these minor components as key inputs to transport models defining the residence time (length of time a compound resides in the atmosphere), sources (input to the atmosphere), and sinks (outputs).

The siting of wind turbines relies heavily on overall weather trends in any particular onshore or offshore area.
The offshore wind farm of five turbines, planned for southeast of Block Island, will generate enough power for over 17,000 RI homes. Photo: Wind turbine in Portsmouth, RI, courtesy 41° N.

Siting renewable energy projects such as wind turbines relies heavily on overall weather trends in any particular onshore or offshore area. GSO atmospheric scientists use instruments placed on meteorological towers, SODARs (sonic detection and ranging, or upward-looking radar used to characterize the vertical wind profile), and weather balloons to measure wind speed and direction. The data is distilled for the public, environmentalists, and prospective power generators to help inform siting decisions.

Although many of the “pollutants” in the air are anthropogenic (human-induced), the atmosphere and the ocean are linked through gas exchange and turbulence. Thus, the chemistry of the atmosphere hinges, in part, on that of the ocean. GSO scientists are particularly interested in the air-sea exchange processes over sea ice. Does the sea ice represent a significant barrier to exchange? Will loss of sea ice lead to dramatic changes in ocean or atmospheric conditions?

Turbulence in the surface ocean is a fundamental process at the air-sea interface, fostering exchange of heat and water vapor between ocean and atmosphere, a prime engine for influencing tropical cyclone (hurricane) intensity and impacts. GSO physical oceanographers develop numerical models to characterize sea spray and breaking bubbles defining exchange of gasses and other compounds across the air-sea interface to predict how turbulence influences ocean-atmospheric processes.