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Contribution of sea surface carbon pool to organic matter enrichment in sea spray aerosol


Breaking waves on the ocean surface generate air bubbles that scavenge organic matter from the surrounding sea water. When injected into the atmosphere, these bubbles burst, yielding sea spray aerosols enriched in organic matter, relative to the sea water. Downwind of plankton blooms, the organic carbon content of sea spray aerosol is weakly correlated with satellite-derived measurements of chlorophyll a levels, a measure of phytoplankton biomass. This correlation has been used in large-scale models to calculate the organic enrichment in sea spray aerosol. Here, we assess the relationship between the organic carbon content of sea water and freshly emitted sea spray aerosol in the presence and absence of plankton blooms in the North Atlantic Ocean and the coastal waters of California. The organic carbon content of freshly emitted sea spray aerosol was similar in all regions sampled, despite significant differences in seawater chlorophyll a levels. The proportion of freshly emitted aerosols that served as cloud condensation nuclei at a given supersaturation was also similar across sampling sites. The large reservoir of organic carbon in surface sea water remained relatively constant across the regions sampled, and independent of variations in chlorophyll a concentrations. We suggest that this reservoir is responsible for the organic carbon enrichment of freshly emitted sea spray aerosol, overwhelming any influence of local biological activity as measured by chlorophyll a levels.

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Figure 1: CalNex and WACS cruise tracks superimposed on maps of satellite-derived Chl a concentration.
Figure 2: Average mass fractions of organic carbon (OC) and sea salt in nascent sea spray aerosol generated by Sea Sweep.
Figure 3: CCN activity for the calibration aerosol and WACS Stations 1 and 2 for size-selected dry diameters (40, 50, 60, 80, and 100 nm).
Figure 4: Size-resolved Sea-Sweep-generated SSA organic volume fraction and hygroscopicity parameter (κ), derived from CCN activation curves.


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This work was supported in part by the NOAA Atmospheric Composition and Climate Program and the National Science Foundation Chemical Oceanography Program (1129896 to DJK, 1129836 to WCK and 1129580 to LMR) and Atmospheric Dynamics Program (1013423 to LMR). We thank D. Hamilton, J. Johnson, I. Tyssebotn, J. Kinsey and M. Haserodt for their assistance in sample collection and analysis; V. Trainer for the loan and calibration of the fluorometer; the captain and crew of the NOAA R/V Ronald H. Brown for support at sea; M. Rinaldi and C. Facchini for MAP data and helpful comments; and S. Gasso for discussions on satellite images of Chl a. This is PMEL contribution 4046.

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All authors contributed extensively to the work presented in this paper. P.K.Q., T.S.B., W.C.K., D.J.K., L.M.R., and A.A.F. designed and performed the experiments, analysed data and wrote the paper. D.J.C. and K.S.S. performed the experiments and analysed data.

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Correspondence to Patricia K. Quinn.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Quinn, P., Bates, T., Schulz, K. et al. Contribution of sea surface carbon pool to organic matter enrichment in sea spray aerosol. Nature Geosci 7, 228–232 (2014).

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