“It’s a complex mixture of chemistry, biology and physics,” said Scripps oceanographer Grant Dean, chief researcher at Soars. “This is one of the things we’ve discovered in the last, I would say, 15 years – these complex interactions in this thin layer of the ocean surface. And what happens there affects the clouds, the ice, the weather, the climate. we have to understand this limit and the role it plays in the climate. ”
Soars gives oceanographers unprecedented control over these variables. Until now, scientists have been able to control complex computer climate models to estimate, say, how much CO2 levels can change the chemical composition of surface waters. These models are useful, but their resolution is rough. Due to limited computing power, the models break the ocean into pixels on a scale of tens to hundreds of kilometers. If scientists tried to work on the centimeter scale, they would wait a long time for the results. With Soars, oceanographers can run instruments through the walls of the tank and take CO2 measurements on an extremely fine scale.
Another option for scientists is to go on a research ship, but it can fly more than $ 20,000 a day to use a boat, while Soars will cost between $ 1,500 and $ 2,000 a day. Stokes and Dean believe that, depending on the nature of the study, researchers may need the machine for a few days to a few months. The simulator will be open to any researcher, in Scripps or otherwise.
Relatively short, simple experiments may involve measuring how wind speed and wave sizes affect the number of aerosols that fly off the surface of the water. Or one may want to know how the “albedo” of the ocean changes, which means how much of the sun’s energy reflects. As the simulated sea becomes more turbulent, white hats will repel much of the sunlight, while calmer, darker waters will absorb more of it and heat up.
A longer and more complex experiment will involve cultivating microbes and plankton – small plants and animals that float at the mercy of currents – and playing with water and air temperatures to see how they react. Or a researcher can deal with atmospheric CO2 concentrations that are currently around 420 parts per million on the ground. “One of the first things we’re going to do is pump CO2 up to 600 ppm and see what it does to organisms, ”says Dean.
What do all these experiments have in common? Control. Oceanographers can only explore the real sea as it is now. With Soars, they will be able to move substantially fast forward to a world with higher temperatures and CO2 levels. “We can turn those knobs and make very good estimates of what future systems look like,” Stokes said.