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A surf song against greenhouse effects

It isn't only a spectacular view: surging billows of water are an effective weapon against the greenhouse effect.



Not only surfers need billowing waves. Also the greenhouse effect is influenced by them.
Picture by T. Micke

Is there anything better than digging your toes into the warm sand and watching the sun set at the horizon? The golden light lets the shades of the parasols grow like gigantic mushrooms. The rhythmic sound of the waves seems like a never ending song or the calm breathing of a sleeping giant. – Both comparisons aren't only suitable to describe a romantic's perception but are also a quite good description of the scientific phenomenon "surf".

While normal people enjoy the romantic atmosphere, the surf inspired Grant Deane and Dale Stokes, two American oceanographers, to do some research. They went on a mission to solve the ocean's secret with their special camera. Out of the 6 tons of CO2 that we produce every year, the ocean swallows approximately two billion. CO2 is responsible for the greenhouse effect. Our planet heats up and causes the glaciers to melt. The scientists don't really have a clue yet how this gigantic oceanic repository works. Like the proverbial sleeping giant the ocean "breathes in" 102 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year and "breathes" 100 billion tons back out. When there are storms or the surf is extremely strong the giant takes an even bigger breath.

Grant Deane in an interview: "In order for scientists to understand why the climate is changing and with which speed, the influencing factors have to be known. The ocean has a very significant influence." Deane and Stokes took pictures of air bubbles and collapsing waves. They counted thousands and thousands of air bubbles in whitecaps (first by hand and then with the help of a computer) and determined their sizes and shapes. That is how they found out that the ocean absorbs atmospheric air (and therefore also CO2) and tears it down.

Now the two want to take it a step further. Grant Deane: "Everybody knows the sound of the ocean. The cause for it is that when the bubbles are formed they haven't yet achieved a stable spherical shape. They are split and move back and forth like jelly whilst making a sound that depends on their size. The sum of all of these various sounds could be called the "song of the surf". The size of the bubbles and how much CO2 was absorbed is likely determinable on the basis of the sound. If we were able to put this information into an equation, in future we would only have to listen to the songs the sea is singing to us about the changing climate…"


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© A report by Tobias Micke (03-11-02) – Contact