Journal cover Journal topic
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 14, 13601-13629, 2014
© Author(s) 2014. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
19 Dec 2014
A physically based framework for modeling the organic fractionation of sea spray aerosol from bubble film Langmuir equilibria
S. M. Burrows1, O. Ogunro2, A. A. Frossard3, L. M. Russell3, P. J. Rasch1, and S. M. Elliott4 1Atmospheric Science and Global Change Division, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington, USA
2Ocean and Atmospheric Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, New Mexico
3Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA
4Climate Ocean Sea Ice Modeling team, Computational Physics and Methods group, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA
Abstract. The presence of a large fraction of organic matter in primary sea spray aerosol (SSA) can strongly affect its cloud condensation nuclei activity and interactions with marine clouds. Global climate models require new parameterizations of the SSA composition in order to improve the representation of these processes. Existing proposals for such a parameterization use remotely sensed chlorophyll a concentrations as a proxy for the biogenic contribution to the aerosol. However, both observations and theoretical considerations suggest that existing relationships with chlorophyll a, derived from observations at only a few locations, may not be representative for all ocean regions.

We introduce a novel framework for parameterizing the fractionation of marine organic matter into SSA based on a competitive Langmuir adsorption equilibrium at bubble surfaces. Marine organic matter is partitioned into classes with differing molecular weights, surface excesses, and Langmuir adsorption parameters. The classes include a lipid-like mixture associated with labile dissolved organic carbon (DOC), a polysaccharide-like mixture associated primarily with semilabile DOC, a protein-like mixture with concentrations intermediate between lipids and polysaccharides, a processed mixture associated with recalcitrant surface DOC, and a deep abyssal humic-like mixture.

Box model calculations have been performed for several cases of organic adsorption to illustrate the underlying concepts. We then apply the framework to output from a global marine biogeochemistry model, by partitioning total dissolved organic carbon into several classes of macromolecules. Each class is represented by model compounds with physical and chemical properties based on existing laboratory data. This allows us to globally map the predicted organic mass fraction of the nascent submicron sea spray aerosol.

Predicted relationships between chlorophyll a and organic fraction are similar to existing empirical parameterizations, but can vary between biologically productive and nonproductive regions, and seasonally within a given region. Major uncertainties include the bubble film thickness at bursting, and the variability of organic surfactant activity in the ocean, which is poorly constrained. In addition, polysaccharides may enter the aerosol more efficiently than Langmuir adsorption would suggest. Potential mechanisms for enrichment of polysaccharides in sea spray include the formation of marine colloidal particles that may be more efficiently swept up by rising bubbles, and cooperative adsorption of polysaccharides with proteins or lipids. These processes may make important contributions to the aerosol, but are not included here.

This organic fractionation framework is an initial step towards a closer linking of ocean biogeochemistry and aerosol chemical composition in Earth system models. Future work should focus on improving constraints on model parameters through new laboratory experiments or through empirical fitting to observed relationships in the real ocean and atmosphere, as well as on atmospheric implications of the variable composition of organic matter in sea spray.

Citation: Burrows, S. M., Ogunro, O., Frossard, A. A., Russell, L. M., Rasch, P. J., and Elliott, S. M.: A physically based framework for modeling the organic fractionation of sea spray aerosol from bubble film Langmuir equilibria, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 14, 13601-13629,, 2014.
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
The air over the ocean is full of sea spray particles ejected by bubbles that burst in the wake of breaking waves. The smallest of such particles, less than a micrometer in diameter, include organic matter derived from ocean biota. This paper introduces a method to calculate the chemical composition of spray particles. Ocean organic matter is divided into several classes using a global model. Basic chemistry relationships predict the amount of organic material in emitted spray.
The air over the ocean is full of sea spray particles ejected by bubbles that burst in the wake...