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Science, Health, Tech

UD researcher wonders how ocean spray fuels tropical storms

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Katie Peikes
/
Delaware Public Media
A little bit of ocean spray seen at Broadkill Beach.

A University of Delaware professor says looking at droplets projected by ocean waves could help scientists understand the role they play in driving tropical storms.

Scientists already use ocean waves to understand hurricanes and tropical storms. But UD's FabriceVeron wonders what if understanding ocean spray could add to that knowledge .

"One of the things that I would like to understand better is really the physical mechanisms by which the wind is tearing off those droplets from the surface of the water and really understand the physics of how those droplets then get transported into the air," Veron said.

Ocean spray is the small and large droplets of foam formed when waves break. Veron said he would like to be able to estimate the number and the size of droplets generated at the surface of the ocean. That will allow researchers to give a more accurate estimate on how much heat is transferred between the water and atmosphere.

Veron said he also wants to determine how much energy is used when droplets are transported through the air.

"What happens is they leave the ocean with some properties, a certain temperature for example, and when they fall back into the ocean a few minutes or few seconds later, they may have cooled, may have a evaporated some, may have accelerated some more," Veron said.

 

This means the droplets add humidity to the atmosphere and drive the transfer of energy between the ocean and the atmosphere, he said.

 
Though his studies don't focus on Delaware, Veron said he sees ocean spray as having added implications for residents living near Delaware’s waters.

"There are some issues with sea salt or salty water being transported inland with an effect on corrosion, maybe and maybe some agriculture with some salt being transported on crops," Veron said.

 

He plans to evaluate computer-controlled waves and the number and size of droplets generated under different wind speeds.