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The ocean’s vital skin:Towards an integrated understanding of the sea surface microlayer

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Hermann Bange, Professor Robert Upstill-GoddardORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Despite the huge extent of the ocean’s surface, until now relatively little attention has been paid to the sea surface microlayer (SML) as the ultimate interface where heat, momentum and mass exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere takes place. Via the SML, large-scale environmental changes in the ocean such as warming, acidification, deoxygenation, and eutrophication potentially influence cloud formation, precipitation, and the global radiation balance. Due to the deep connectivity between biological, chemical, and physical processes, studies of the SML may reveal multiple sensitivities to global and regional changes. Understanding the processes at the ocean’s surface, in particular involving the SML as an important and determinant interface, could therefore provide an essential contribution to the reduction of uncertainties regarding ocean-climate feedbacks. This review identifies gaps in our current knowledge of the SML and highlights a need to develop a holistic and mechanistic understanding of the diverse biological, chemical, and physical processes occurring at the ocean-atmosphere interface. We advocate the development of strong interdisciplinary expertise and collaboration in order to bridge between ocean and atmospheric sciences. Although this will pose significant methodological challenges, such an initiative would represent a new role model for interdisciplinary research in Earth System sciences.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Engel A, Bange HW, Cunliffe M, Burrows SM, Freidrichs G, Galgani L, Herrmann H, Hertkorn N, Johnson M, Liss PS, Quinn PK, Schartau M, Soloviev A, Stolle S, Upstill-Goddard RC, van Pinxteren M, Zäncker B

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Frontiers in Marine Science

Year: 2017

Volume: 4

Online publication date: 30/05/2017

Acceptance date: 12/05/2017

ISSN (electronic): 2296-7745


DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00165