National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2017

Size-resolved characterization of the polysaccharidic and proteinaceous components of sea spray aerosol

Aller, J.Y., J.C. Radway, W.P. Kilthau, D.W. Bothe, T.W. Wilson, R.D. Vaillancourt, P.K. Quinn, D.J. Coffman, B.J. Murray, and D.A. Knopf

Atmos. Environ., 154, 331–347, doi: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2017.01.053, Available online (2017)

Dissolved organic polymers released by phytoplankton and bacteria abiologically self-assemble in surface ocean waters into nano-to micro-sized gels containing polysaccharides, proteins, lipids and other components. These gels concentrate in the sea surface microlayer (SML), where they can potentially contribute to sea spray aerosol (SSA). Sea spray is a major source of atmospheric aerosol mass over much of the earth's surface, and knowledge of its properties (including the amount and nature of the organic content), size distributions and fluxes are fundamental for determining its role in atmospheric chemistry and climate. Using a cascade impactor, we collected size-fractionated aerosol particles from ambient air and from freshly generated Sea Sweep SSA in the western North Atlantic Ocean together with biological and chemical characterization of subsurface and SML waters. Spectrophotometric methods were applied to quantify the polysaccharide-containing transparent exopolymer (TEP) and protein-containing Coomassie stainable material (CSM) in these particles and waters. This study demonstrates that both TEP and CSM in surface ocean waters are aerosolized with sea spray with the greatest total TEP associated with particles <180 nm in diameter and >5 000 nm. The higher concentrations of TEP and CSM in particles >5 000 nm most likely reflects collection of microorganism cells and/or fragments. The greater concentration of CSM in larger size particles may also reflect greater stability of proteinaceous gels compared to polysaccharide-rich gels in surface waters and the SML. Both TEP and CSM were measured in the ambient marine air sample with concentrations of 2.1 ± 0.16 μg xanthan gum equivalents (XG eq.) m−3 and 14 ± 1.0 μg bovine serum albumin equivalents (BSA eq.) m−3. TEP in Sea Sweep SSA averaged 4.7 ± 3.1 μg XG eq. m−3 and CSM 8.6 ± 7.3 μg BSA eq. m−3. This work shows the transport of marine biogenic material across the air-sea interface through primary particle emission and the first demonstration of particle size discriminated TEP and CSM characterization of SSA and ambient aerosol under field conditions.

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