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Researching climate through waves

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and UCSD are celebrating a $20 million grant for a study that will ultimately show how waves impact weather and public health.

It's something we all take for granted. We surf it, we walk it and we breathe it. Every wave that crashes leaves a little footprint of sorts, but not the kind you'd find in the sand.

"Anyone who has walked along the beach has seen the waves and the foam the waves make, and waves break like that all over the ocean. When the foam breaks up it ejects tiny little droplets into the air, and those droplets contain everything that was in the water," oceanographic researcher Grant Deane said.

It's that mist you see hanging over the water -- sea spray.

"How do these particles form, what turns them into cloud condensation nuclei, what turns them into ice nuclei, how does the distribution of those particles impact clouds, climate and weather?" Deane said.

Think of adding cream to your coffee. Before you stir it, it binds together on the surface. Our clouds form in a similar way, only we're talking particles coming from the ocean that help form bigger chunks, moisture latches on and eventually forms a cloud.

"Some of those particles end up way high in the sky, help form clouds and raindrops and the clouds help make weather and climate," Deane said.

Thanks to a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation, a team of researchers will expand their aerosol study by 5 years and open doors to scientists beyond UCSD and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

"Here every now and again there are very small breakers that are hard to study and photograph in the ocean, but right here you can see them in the channel," Deane said.

So it's literally like we're making a storm right here in the lab and you can look right in the waves. You would get in the storm right here in the lab," Deane said.

The Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment may look a little weathered on the outside, but the latest big ticket funding will provide better tools and a closer look into how microscopic organisms are influencing what we breathe, allowing researchers to ultimately provide an extended forecast for our climate.

Coming up in the next few weeks, we'll be talking to local students benefitting from this $20 million grant.

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