Greatly magnified microbes and sea salt crystals are layered over bubbles formed from a crashing wave in an artistic photo illustration made during summer's SeaSCAPE project on the campus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. This illustration is designed to emphasize the role of microbes in the physical-chemical-biological connections between ocean and atmosphere.
Breaking waves were mechanically generated using a wave machine at Scripps' Hydraulics Laboratory. There researchers simulated ocean processes using natural sea water to understand how pollution particles interact with other aerosols that are ejected from the ocean into the atmosphere as waves crash.
The bubbles from breaking waves launch sea spray aerosols containing salt and other living materials such as bacteria and viruses into the atmosphere. In addition, gases are released from the ocean which can react and form more aerosols. Researchers with the National Science Foundation Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment (CAICE) are interested in studying how aerosols are affecting the formation of clouds over the ocean, which covers 71 percent of Earth’s surface and plays a large role in regulating the planet's temperature.
Former Birch Aquarium at Scripps Executive Director Nigella Hillgarth worked with CAICE to document the SeaSCAPE project as the Climate Science Alliance's 2019 Climate Art Fellow. Photo illustration: Nigella Hillgarth and Sarah Amiri.