Potential effect of bio-surfactants on sea spray generation in tropical cyclone conditions

Breanna Vanderplow, Alexander V. Soloviev, Cayla W. Dean, Brian K. Haus, Roger Lukas, Muhammad Sami, Isaac Ginis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Despite significant improvement in computational and observational capabilities, predicting intensity and intensification of major tropical cyclones remains a challenge. In 2017 Hurricane Maria intensified to a Category 5 storm within 24 h, devastating Puerto Rico. In 2019 Hurricane Dorian, predicted to remain tropical storm, unexpectedly intensified into a Category 5 storm and destroyed the Bahamas. The official forecast and computer models were unable to predict rapid intensification of these storms. One possible reason for this is that key physics, including microscale processes at the air-sea interface, are poorly understood and parameterized in existing forecast models. Here we show that surfactants significantly affect the generation of sea spray, which provides some of the fuel for tropical cyclones and their intensification, but also provides some of the drag that limits intensity and intensification. Using a numerical model verified with a laboratory experiment, which predicts spray radii distribution starting from a 100 μm radius, we show that surfactants increase spray generation by 20–34%. We anticipate that bio-surfactants affect heat, energy, and momentum exchange through altered size distribution and concentration of sea spray, with consequences for tropical cyclone intensification or decline, particularly in areas of algal blooms and near coral reefs, as well as in areas affected by oil spills and dispersants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number19057
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Potential effect of bio-surfactants on sea spray generation in tropical cyclone conditions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this