It's a complicated mixture of biology, physics and chemistry, according to Grant Deane, Scripps oceanographer and co-principal investigator at Soars. This is one of the many things we have discovered over the past 15 years: the complex interactions within the thin oceanic layer. What happens there can influence clouds, weather, and climate. It is important to understand the boundary and its role in climate.
These variables can be controlled by oceanographers with unprecedented ease using Soars. Scientists could use complex climate models to predict how rising CO2 levels will affect the surface water chemistry. These models can be useful but have a poor resolution. The models can break down the ocean into pixels at a scale of tens of to hundreds of kilometers due to limited computing power. Scientists would be very slow to get results if they tried to work on the centimeter scale. Oceanographers can use Soars to snake instruments through the tank walls and take CO2 measurements at a very fine scale.
Illustration by Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Scientists also have the option of going on research vessels. However, they can spend more than $20,000 per day to use one, while Soars costs $1,500-$2,000 per day. According to Stokes and Deane, the time the simulator might be needed by investigators will vary depending on the nature of their research. Any researcher at Scripps can use the simulator.
Simple experiments, which are relatively short, might include measuring the influence of wind speeds and wave size on the amount of aerosols that fly off a waters surface. Someone might also be interested in how the ocean's albedo changes. This is the amount of sun energy it reflects. The simulated sea becomes more rougher and whitecaps would reflect more sunlight. However, calmer waters will absorb more and heat up.
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The experiment could be longer and more complicated and involve the cultivation of microbes and planktonlittle animals and plants that float at will and playing with air and water temperatures to see their reactions. A researcher could also play with the atmospheric CO2 concentrations, currently at 420 parts per Million on Earth. Deane says that one of the first things they'll do is to pump the CO2 up to 600ppm to see how it affects the organisms.