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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 8, issue 1
Biogeosciences, 8, 121–135, 2011
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-8-121-2011
© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Biogeosciences, 8, 121–135, 2011
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-8-121-2011
© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 18 Jan 2011

Research article | 18 Jan 2011

Formation and global distribution of sea-surface microlayers

O. Wurl, E. Wurl, L. Miller, K. Johnson, and S. Vagle O. Wurl et al.
  • Institute of Ocean Sciences, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Sidney, British Columbia, V8L 4B2, Canada

Abstract. Results from a study of surfactants in the sea-surface microlayer (SML) in different regions of the ocean (subtropical, temperate, polar) suggest that this interfacial layer between the ocean and atmosphere covers the ocean's surface to a significant extent. New, experimentally-derived threshold values at which primary production acts as a significant source of natural surfactants to the microlayer are coupled with a wind speed threshold at which the SML is presumed to be disrupted, and the results suggest that surfactant enrichment in the SML is greater in oligotrophic regions of the ocean than in more productive waters. Furthermore, surfactant enrichments persisted at wind speeds of up to 10 m s−1, without any observed depletion above 5 m s−1. This suggests that the SML is stable enough to exist even at the global average wind speed of 6.6 m s−1. Using our observations of the surfactant enrichments at various trophic levels and wind states, global maps of primary production and wind speed allow us to extrapolate the ocean's SML coverage . The maps indicate that wide regions of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans between 30° N and 30° S may be more significantly covered with SML than north of 30° N and south of 30° S, where higher productivity (spring/summer blooms) and wind speeds exceeding 12 m s−1 may prevent extensive SML formation.

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