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Researchers bring ocean into lab to study pollution's impact on climate change

Posted at 6:21 PM, Jul 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-25 21:21:56-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - UC San Diego researchers want to understand better how humans are impacting climate change, looking to the ocean for answers.

Inside the Hydraulics Lab at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography sits a large tank mimicking the ocean.

"It's a one-of-a-kind experiment that has taken us eight years to get to the point of doing," said Kimberly Prather, Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at UC San Diego.

Funding for the novel project comes from the National Science Foundation, which put $20 million into the first five years of research and another $20 million into the next five years.

When waves break, salts and other living material including viruses and bacteria are launched in the form of sea spray aerosols into the atmosphere. Scientists are interested in better understanding the role of these particles in controlling climate by forming clouds over oceans that cover nearly three-quarters of the earth's surface.

Now the research includes experiments to determine how pollution from human activities interact with natural ocean emissions and change the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

"A lot of people still deny that humans are the ones changing things, this experiment will pinpoint how much and how fast humans are changing things," said Prather.

She says changes in the ocean, atmosphere, and climate are happening much faster than scientists once thought.

"We used to say we're passionate about it because it's affecting our kids and our grandkids. But it's affecting us right now, today," said Prather.

They hope to pinpoint which human activities, like car emissions or coal combustion, are doing the most harm.

Prather hopes answers discovered in the lab will guide policymakers on how to tackle the growing threat.