Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla today announced a five-year, $20 million award from the National Science Foundation to support an innovative program of research and education on how interactions between air and sea alter the chemistry of the atmosphere to influence climate.
Khosla will appear with UC San Diego chemistry and biochemistry professors Kimberly Prather and Mario Molina, a 1995 Nobel laureate, at a noon news conference at the Birch Aquarium at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
The grant will support the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment (CAICE), led by the University of California, San Diego, which will leverage the expertise of top scientists from nine universities to understand how particles released from the ocean influence the environment—from local water supplies to global climate.
“At UC San Diego, we tackle complex, pressing societal issues that have global impact. With this new award, we will build on our legacy of excellence in climate research and atmospheric chemistry that began with our founder, Roger Revelle, who helped bring the world’s attention to global warming,” said Chancellor Khosla. “This funding—which highlights the talent and ability of our faculty to establish innovative, collaborative teams—will allow us to advance our understanding of how aerosols impact our climate and environment, and educate future scientists.”
The center focuses on one of the largest uncertainties in understanding and modeling climate: the role played by tiny particles called aerosols. The chemical complexity of these microscopic bits of salt, carbonaceous compounds, biological molecules and even microorganisms complicates efforts to understand how they influence atmospheric chemistry and physical properties such as warming.
“One of the primary innovations of CAICE is the development of new theoretical and technological tools that will provide a better fundamental understanding of realistic atmospheric aerosols in a laboratory setting where studies of their transformations and climate properties can be carefully controlled and measured,” said Prather, Distinguished Chair in Atmospheric Chemistry at UC San Diego and director of CAICE. “This will ultimately allow more accurate predictions to be made about their reactivity and therefore influence on the atmosphere and climate.”
Ocean in a bottle
The ever-changing nature of the ocean in its wild state, with variations in temperature, wind, water chemistry and the life within it, makes measurements difficult and controlled experiments nearly impossible. To get around this, the team has captured the complexity of interactions between ocean and atmosphere by creating a microcosm of this dynamic system in the laboratory.
State-of-the art instruments arrayed along a 33-meter-long flume filled with water piped directly from the Pacific Ocean precisely measure the chemical properties of sea spray generated by breaking waves. This innovative approach offers advantages over others that approximate natural systems with simple chemical mixtures, yet still allows researchers the advantages of controlled manipulation of a complex system. Both seawater and the air above, enclosed by a dome, can be modified and measured, allowing the researchers to isolate individual factors to determine their influence on the chemistry of aerosols, and therefore climate.
“With this major new funding, we can now add human influences to our system—by spiking it with pollutants, changing the temperature, or increasing carbon dioxide levels, as examples,” said Prather, who holds appointments in UC San Diego’s department of chemistry and biochemistry and UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
CAICE, one of NSF’s Centers for Chemical Innovation, is the seventh center since 2007 to be chosen for Phase II funding. The program supports agile collaborations that can respond rapidly to emerging opportunities to address fundamental chemical challenges.
“Studying sea spray aerosols at a molecular level and understanding the complexity of the chemistry occurring on the surface of aerosols and bubbles in seawater is an example of the fundamental research NSF supports,” said Jackie Gervay-Hague, director of NSF’s chemistry division within the Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences. “Fundamental research is absolutely essential to making important scientific discoveries and answering today’s most pressing scientific questions. In this case, this award supports an interdisciplinary team of scientists who will be able to continue to address important and challenging climate issues.” The center will be eligible to be considered for an additional $20 million in funding in 2018.
“The expertise and international connections of the atmospheric chemists here at UC San Diego are perfectly suited to establishing broad and innovative collaborations, like the one we are celebrating today,” said Mark Thiemens, dean of the Division of Physical Sciences and Chancellor’s Associates Chair. “The combined and varied capabilities of the scientists that CAICE assembles is just what we need to understand the complex contributions of aerosols to global climate.”
“This cross-campus center is another affirmation that UC San Diego is a world leader in the study of aerosols, which present one of the biggest challenges to the understanding and prediction of climate change, and in the study of their complex chemistry," said Cathy Constable, interim director of UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "Because CAICE touches on issues ranging from California climate to public health, UC San Diego's emphasis on interdisciplinary study will greatly benefit the center as it seeks to understand a force with subtle but very wide-ranging effects on society."
Impact on society, future
This creative collaboration will enhance our understanding of how aerosols absorb and reflect sunlight, seed clouds and influence precipitation, information that will improve our ability to predict regional climate and manage water resources.
In addition to these fundamental scientific discoveries, the center will also play a critical role in educating the next generation of scientists and expanding a mentoring network to include students with diverse backgrounds.
As participating students and post-doctoral scientists gain experience in interdisciplinary research, including the development of novel instruments, they will also hone their ability to convey their work to the public through participation in outreach programs with partner institutions ranging from K-12 schools through community colleges and other universities including the University of Puerto Rico and the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Feeling the Heat, a hands-on exhibit on the influence of aerosols on the environment at the Birch Aquarium, part of UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is another important part of the outreach component of CAICE.
CAICE Photo Gallery:
Kim McDonald, email@example.com, 858-534-7572
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for global science research and education in the world. Now in its second century of discovery, the scientific scope of the institution has grown to include biological, physical, chemical, geological, geophysical, and atmospheric studies of the earth as a system. Hundreds of research programs covering a wide range of scientific areas are under way today on every continent and in every ocean. The institution has a staff of more than 1,400 and annual expenditures of approximately $195 million from federal, state, and private sources. Scripps operates robotic networks and one of the largest U.S. academic fleets. Birch Aquarium at Scripps serves as the interpretive center of the institution and showcases Scripps research and a diverse array of marine life through exhibits and programming for more than 430,000 visitors each year. Learn more at scripps.ucsd.edu.
About UC San Diego
The University of California, San Diego is a student-centered, research-focused, service-oriented public institution that provides opportunity for all. Recognized as one of the top 15 research universities worldwide and born of a culture of collaboration, UC San Diego sparks discoveries that advance society, drive economic growth and positively impact the world. Our students, who learn from Nobel laureates, MacArthur Fellows and National Academy members, are committed to public service. For the sixth consecutive year, UC San Diego has been ranked first in the nation based on research, civic engagement and social mobility. We are one campus with multiple pillars of excellence, a top ten public university that is transforming lives, shaping new disciplines and advancing the frontiers of knowledge. Learn more at www.ucsd.edu.