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Ocean-Atmosphere Exchange

Improving the knowledge of the mechanisms underlying air-sea exchange is crucial to the interpretation of larger-scale physical and biogeochemical processes. Conventional technology has provided only limited observations under high wind conditions and few observations at high latitude where exchanges are particularly strong. The lack of observations at the air-sea boundary during high wind and sea states is a serious impediment to our understanding of air-sea exchange during extreme atmospheric forcing. Thus, measurements of the exchange of mass (including gases, aerosols, sea spray, and water vapor), momentum, and energy (including heat) across the air-sea interface during high wind conditions (> 20 ms-1) are rare.

The availability of air-sea exchange data has been identified as critical to improving the predictive capabilities of storm forecasting and climate-change models, and for estimating energy and material (e.g., carbon, nitrogen) exchange between the upper and deep ocean. Severe storms and other extreme events can greatly affect coastal populations, and so are of particular interest to federal operational partners such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Additionally, observations supporting the study of chemical and biological change in the ocean are the key to following the global carbon cycle and climate change. These carbon measurements, however, must be augmented by science that cuts across scientific domains, including understanding the exchange of substances and energy between the ocean and atmosphere by simultaneous observations of both domains.

OOI surface buoys and surface-piercing profilers provide continuous measurements above and below the air-sea boundary for periods of years to decades, providing the data needed to understand these processes.

The OOI platforms are designed to include sufficient stability and power to support a suite of rugged meteorological and in-water sensors to enable studies of the dynamics of marine storms, upper ocean circulation, primary productivity, ocean carbon fluxes, and climate. Real-time communications enable adaptive sampling of subsurface measurements to assess the efficacy of the gas exchange during the storm events, and real-time data are used to derive parameterizations for coupled air-sea models.

Related Science Questions

  • How important are extremes of surface forcing in the exchange of momentum, heat, water, and gases between the ocean and atmosphere?
  • What is the effect of extreme surface forcing on air-sea fluxes of mass and energy?
  • What is the effect of extreme wind on the structure of the upper mixed-layer?
  • How does variability in surface forcing affect primary productivity (and carbon fixation)?