The National Science Foundation Wednesday awarded $2.8 million to UC San Diego to construct a first-of-its-kind laboratory ocean and atmosphere simulator on the Scripps Institution of Oceanography campus.
The simulator will mimic the interactions of wind, waves, microbial marine life and chemistry at the sea surface. Scientists will be able to generate winds up to 31 mph, control temperatures to replicate tropical to polar conditions and introduce a wide range of phytoplankton blooms.
The simulator will allow researchers to mimic the ocean with an unprecedented level of accuracy to explore how pollution is changing the environment, according to Grant Deane, the project’s principal investigator.
“It is the only instrument in the world capable of studying the current and future ocean/atmospheric system and a testament to 21st century science,” Deane said. “We are building the tools we need to understand our changing planet and educate the next generation of scientists and engineers in whole earth science.”
The total cost of the simulator is $4 million. Scripps said it will cover the remaining $1.2 million.
Design of the instrument has started. Experiments, scheduled to begin in 2021, will be broad and cover a number of disciplines, including chemistry, microbiology and physical oceanography.
Some research at the facility will help scientists understand how marine pollutants and higher carbon dioxide levels resulting from human activity affect marine animals, plants, cloud formation and human beings. That work could show how a variety of ocean ecosystems and currents may respond to future environmental conditions, according to Rick Murray, director of the NSF’s Division of Ocean Scientists.
The simulator will allow for more detailed study of aerosols, particles made up of sea salts, organic matter, viruses and bacteria that are sprayed from the ocean surface when waves break and winds blow. Those particles directly form clouds. Components of aerosols can change the properties of clouds and contribute to changes in Earth’s temperature, co-principal investigator Kim Prather said.
“SOARS will open the doors for science in the exploration of future as well as prehistoric scenarios that will allow scientists to sort out human- natural interactions at a level that cannot be achieved in the real world,” Prather said.
The simulator represents a major evolution of Scripps’ environmental simulation equipment. The institution has been able to simulate waves and some ocean processes for nearly five decades, according to Scripps.
—City News Service
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