Home Resources SSI News UCSD Researchers to Create Center Devoted to Chemistry's Influence on Climate - October 7, 2010
UCSD Researchers to Create Center Devoted to Chemistry's Influence on Climate - October 7, 2010

Center for aerosol impacts on climate and the environment to build ocean-atmosphere simulator on Scripps Oceanography campus


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Scripps Institution of Oceanography / University of California, San Diego

Scientists in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have won a grant to study prevailing mysteries about how chemistry influences climate and atmospheric processes.

The $1.5 million National Science Foundation award forms the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment (CAICE), which aims to determine how the chemical composition of aerosol particles and the chemical reactions occurring at their surface impact Earth's climate. Until now, studies focused on determining the impact of aerosol chemical processes on climate have been conducted on either highly simplified model systems in the laboratory, making extension to real-world conditions challenging, or under overly complex atmospheric conditions, making deduction of the underlying driving mechanisms cloudy. As a result, chemical processes associated with aerosol particles are poorly constrained in most computer models used for climate predictions.


pratheraerosols07_127   "We're going to understand how real systems behave and how chemistry affects climate," said the
   center's principal investigator Kim Prather, an atmospheric chemistry professor who holds appointments
   in the UCSD Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as well as at Scripps Oceanography. This knowl-
   edge will be used to dramatically improve the representation of aerosol chemical mechanisms in global
   climate models, and how they impact climate processes such as cloud formation, cloud lifetime, precip-
   itation patterns and direct aerosol absorption.

   The center is designed to bring together experts in all areas of chemistry, with physical, chemical and
   biological oceanographers with the intent of determining how chemical processes impact climate from
    the molecular scale all the way to the global scale.

   "We're understanding at a fundamental level when chemistry is important," said Prather.

To overcome hurdles to observation, the award, which in later phases could direct as much as $40 million toward the center, will support the modification of an existing wave tank on the Scripps campus to create CAICE's research centerpiece, a closed chamber that can simulate ocean-atmosphere interactions. Researchers will add various atmosphere-changing ingredients - from carbon dioxide to phytoplankton to varying levels of light - to measure the effects of different variables.

"We're going to build an ocean and then we're going to build an atmosphere over the ocean," said Prather. "We'll be able to do all kinds of experiments in this microcosm."

The test tank, currently used to generate waves for fluid dynamics studies, could be ready for the center's experiments by January 2011.

The center will include research led by investigators in UCSD's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Scripps who represent fields ranging from fundamental chemistry to biological, chemical and physical oceanography. Co-investigators and advisors from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry include Timothy Bertram, Mario Molina, Robert Pomeroy, Francesco Paesani and Mark Thiemens. Scripps co-investigators and advisers include Grant Deane, Lynn Russell, Lihini Aluwihare, Brian Palenik, Andrew Dickson and Veerabhadran Ramanathan.

CAICE will also feature an educational component that will be integrated into science education programs at Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Prather said a key focus of the center will be to reinvigorate K-12 science education through environmental measurements. The initial educational partners include Paul Ecke Central Elementary School in Encinitas and Castle Park High School in Chula Vista, two schools that are working with UCSD scientists to incorporate related marine and atmospheric studies into their science curricula using the center's outreach budget. National Instruments, Horiba, TSI, Inc. and Nanocomposix are the initial industrial partners of CAICE and will provide state-of-the-art measurement tools. Efforts are under way to identify other key outside collaborators and partners to work on scientific issues, as well as educational and outreach activities.

"We are delighted that the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment is being established," said Birch Aquarium at Scripps Executive Director Nigella Hillgarth. "We are looking forward to collaborating on outreach programs that are designed to bring awareness to schools and the public about this cutting-edge research on aerosol particles and oceans, atmosphere, climate, chemistry and biology."


# # #

Note to broadcast and cable producers: University of California, San Diego provides an on-campus satellite uplink facility for live or pre-recorded television interviews. Please phone or e-mail the media contact listed above to arrange an interview.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at 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 in 65 countries. The institution has a staff of about 1,300, and annual expenditures of approximately $155 million from federal, state and private sources. Scripps operates one of the largest U.S. academic fleets with four oceanographic research ships and one research platform for worldwide exploration.