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Transmission Electron Micrographs of four individual sea spray aerosol particles with chemical maps measured by energy dispersive x-ray analysis (TEM-EDX). [Ault et al., Environ. Sci. Technol., 2013]

The NSF Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and Environment (CAICE) tackles the grand challenge of elucidating the chemical complexity of atmospheric aerosol particles. One important type of aerosol, sea spray, has tremendous chemical variability depending on ocean chemistry, biology, and physical factors such as waves and wind.  CAICE has established a unique ocean-atmosphere facility that can replicate natural sea spray aerosol in a controlled setting.

Interdisciplinary teams including chemists from all fields, as well as marine and chemical biologists, climate and atmospheric scientists, and oceanographers provide diverse perspectives and approaches to gain fundamental chemical insights into how aerosols form and subsequently react. New theoretical and experimental tools for spatially-resolved analysis will be developed to understand the complex, heterogeneous, and dynamic aspects of aerosol particles at a level that will allow the information to be applied generally to atmospheric aerosols. CAICE’s goal is to understand how the structure, phase, and molecular composition – at the level of the individual aerosol particle – impact the properties and reactivity of sea spray aerosol. This detailed chemical understanding can be used to predict how the chemistry of aerosols influences light absorption and scattering, as well as how they nucleate cloud droplets and ice crystals.

CAICE waveflume experiments

The CAICE Ocean-Atmosphere Facility at the SIO Hydraulics Laboratory.

CAICE advances a wide range of scientific disciplines, including interfacial chemistry, air quality and atmospheric chemistry, nucleation at interfaces, climate science, multiphase and heterogeneous reaction processes, nanoparticle properties and ocean biogeochemistry.

The important benefits for society include: 1) an improved ability to predict regional climate, atmospheric chemistry, and water resources via advanced models that incorporate aerosol impacts on clouds and precipitation processes; and 2) the interdisciplinary training and education of the next generation of scientific leaders who will develop solutions to large-scale environmental problems.

CAICE students acquire solid foundations in fundamental chemistry while addressing problems related to the ocean, atmosphere and climate. All CAICE participants receive training on how toconvey their scientific findings to the public effectively. They also learn entrepreneurialism, and play central roles in education and outreach programs. The research is communicated to the public in close collaboration with the Birch Aquarium and other public venues.

The Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and Environment is funded as part of the National Science Foundation’s Centers for Chemical Innovation (CCI) program.