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The role of sea spray in atmosphere–ocean gas exchange


Sea spray facilitates the movement of matter and energy between the ocean and the atmosphere. While many of its contributions to heat and momentum transfer are relatively well understood, the contribution to chemical exchange, particularly gas exchange, remains less well known. This study provides an estimation of sea-spray gas-exchange potential for five gases (helium, neon, argon, oxygen and nitrogen) using a chemically modified microphysical model, the Andreas Gas Exchange Spray model. This model uses the physical evolution of the sea-spray droplet and gas-exchange equilibria to estimate the potential exchange of gases attributable to spray droplets. We find that sea spray does not contribute appreciably to gas exchange of helium and neon. However, for argon, oxygen and nitrogen, at high wind speeds (above 18 m s–1), sea-spray-droplet-facilitated exchange could contribute substantially to gas flux and is on the same order of magnitude as the empirically constrained direct exchange across the interface. Sea spray, as a potential pathway for atmosphere–ocean gas exchange, may improve gas-exchange predictions in the high-wind scenarios that are particularly important in the Southern Ocean polar region.

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Fig. 1: Sea-spray evolution.
Fig. 2: Air–sea temperature differentials.
Fig. 3: Global gas-exchange-potential map.
Fig. 4: Gas flux associated with evolution of a spray droplet as a function of wind speed.
Fig. 5: Monthly near-surface wind speeds from January and July 2009.

Data availability

Data used in the analysis were obtained from publicly available sources as cited. Temperatures were obtained from the ICOADS dataset, which asks that we acknowledge by including the statement “ICOADS data provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD, Boulder, Colorado, USA, from their Web site at” Air and sea temperatures were downloaded from the ICOADS long-term monthly mean products through and processed for the regions shown in the Methods. Salinity was averaged from the ranges presented by Emery and Meincke29. Seawinds QuikSCAT data were obtained from and filtered for January and July of all available years. Data generated using the AGES model are also available through OSF: data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

All code used in the AGES model has been deposited in the Open Science Framework:


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The authors acknowledge E. Andreas for the creation of the original program26 upon which this model was built and without which this work could not be accomplished. We also acknowledge A. Bourganos for his assistance with proofing the AGES model code. Work was funded through NSF grant nos. 13-56541 (P.V. and E.C.M.) and 16-30846 (P.V. and E.C.M.).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



A.S. modified and coded the program used for this analysis and prepared the figures used therein. P.V. assisted A.S. in an advisory capacity and provided the calculated wind-speed volume fluxes. E.C.M. is responsible for the portions of this paper that place it in a historical context and made invaluable contributions to the comprehensive coverage of sea-spray physics. All authors contributed to the preparation of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Allison Staniec.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Geoscience thanks the anonymous reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Primary Handling Editor Rebecca Neely, in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Global Regions.

The global regions used for this study (adapted from Emery and Meincke29).

Extended Data Fig. 2 Global Map of Helium Gas Exchange.

Potential gas exchange associated with a 100 µm sea spray droplet presented as the percentage of the initial gas volume lost to the atmosphere if the droplet reaches final radial equilibrium.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Global Map of Neon Gas Exchange.

Potential gas exchange associated with a 100 µm sea spray droplet presented as the percentage of the initial gas volume lost to the atmosphere if the droplet reaches final radial equilibrium.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Global Map of Argon Gas Exchange.

Potential gas exchange associated with a 100 µm sea spray droplet presented as the percentage of the initial gas volume lost to the atmosphere if the droplet reaches final radial equilibrium.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Global Map of Nitrogen Gas Exchange.

Potential gas exchange associated with a 100 µm sea spray droplet presented as the percentage of the initial gas volume lost to the atmosphere if the droplet reaches final radial equilibrium.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–3.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 2

Fig. 2 Source Data.

Source Data Fig. 3

Fig. 3 Source Data.

Source Data Fig. 4

Fig. 4 Source Data.

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Staniec, A., Vlahos, P. & Monahan, E.C. The role of sea spray in atmosphere–ocean gas exchange. Nat. Geosci. 14, 593–598 (2021).

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