Breathing Oceans

water sample

Oceans are a global reservoir of greenhouse gases, estimated to account for 20–40% of the post-industrial sink for anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO₂). To better estimate how much of these climate-changing gases the oceans can store, it is crucial to understand the exchange of gases such as CO₂, methane (CH₄), and nitrous oxide (N₂O) between the ocean and the atmosphere. However, quantifying this exchange is a major challenge.

A five-year interdisciplinary research project, Breathing Oceans: Understanding the Organic Skin that Modulates the Exchange of Greenhouse Gases between the Atmosphere and the Ocean (BOOGIE), is studying the role of the ocean's organic ‘skin layer' in modulating this gaseous exchange. These organic substances are derived from terrestrial and marine sources and are known as surfactants. They accumulate in the ocean's skin layer, undergoing biotic and abiotic transformations while being transported in water.

Bringing together expertise in atmospheric, fresh and marine water sciences, the project will identify the main sources of surfactants that influence gas exchange at the water surface.

The research will focus on a land-ocean transect from South America toward the African Continent. Through the application of new technologies, using novel in-situ sensor platforms and advanced geochemical characterisation techniques, the project will investigate how organic matter controls air-water gas exchange.

The new and unique data captured will be incorporated into hydrological and gas flux models to examine spatial and temporal effects of surfactant suppression of gas exchange. The findings will offer new insights into how fundamental biogeochemical cycles, such as the carbon cycle, operate and provide critical information for estimating the capacity of oceanic sinks and their role as sources of key greenhouse gases, both now and in the future.

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  • Total award: £1.6M
  • Funder: European Research Commission
  • Lead: Dr Ryan Pereira

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