Air-sea gas exchange

The transport of gases between the ocean and atmosphere has profound implications for our environment and the Earth's climate. This is because the oceans are a major sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide and are also a source or sink for many other climatically active gases. There are many complex processes involved in air-sea gas exchange and understanding them is critical to future climate change scenarios.

Our research focuses on gases that exchange between the ocean and atmosphere. These include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, dimethyl sulphide and ammonia. These compounds are important for our climate because they are either greenhouse gases or influence the production and growth of particles in the atmosphere that reflect the sun’s radiation away from the Earth’s surface.

We also study a range of volatile organic compounds such as methanol and acetone, which influence the atmosphere’s ability to process and remove pollutants. These gases are present at extremely low concentrations and we have pioneered methodologies and analytical techniques to accurately measure their concentration and flux.

We use a combination of coastal and open ocean field experiments and laboratory studies to identify and quantify the mechanisms controlling the production and consumption of gases within the surface ocean. We recently established the Penlee Point Atmospheric Observatory at the entrance to Plymouth Sound. The observatory is an ideal platform for us to develop new monitoring techniques and to study the interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere.

Making a difference

Our work helps to improve understanding of the role that the oceans play in the Earth system. We use our data within models to understand how the air-sea fluxes of gases might change in response to various future scenarios including changes in marine biota, ocean acidification, warming and other stressors. 

Further information

Please feel free to contact us if you are interested in working or studying within the group,


ESA-SOLAS - OceanFlux Greenhouse Gases

ESA-SOLAS - OceanFlux Greenhouse Gases

Contact: Professor Philip Nightingale

Transport of gases between the ocean and the atmosphere, known as ‘air-sea gas exchange’, have profound implications for our...

Radiatively Active Gases from the North Atlantic RegiOn and Climate Change (RAGNARoCC)

Radiatively Active Gases from the North Atlantic RegiOn and Climate Change (RAGNARoCC)

Contact: Dr Vassilis Kitidis

The exchange of natural and man-made gases between the ocean and the atmosphere has profound implications for our environment. The speed of the gas...


Processes Influencing Carbon Cycling: Observations of the Lower limb of the Antarctic Overturning (PICCOLO)

Contact: Dr Tom Bell

The vast, remote seas which surround the continent of Antarctica are collectively known as the Southern Ocean. This region with its severe...

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First direct measurement of air-sea methanol exchange

A new study by PML scientists has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) describing the first direct measurement of air-sea methanol exchange over the open ocean, along a north-south transect of the Atlantic.


Sentinel-3 and the ocean carbon conundrum

An international team of researchers, including PML scientists, is using pioneering techniques to study how carbon dioxide is transferred from the atmosphere into the oceans. 


New buoy a swell solution

PML’s new Near Surface Ocean Profiling Buoy enables scientists to gain accurate measurements from the top few metres of the ocean.

Related recent publications

  1. Sargeant, SL; Murrell, JC; Nightingale, PD; Dixon, JL . 2018 Basin-scale variability of microbial methanol uptake in the Atlantic Ocean. Biogeosciences. 10.5194/bg-2018-30 (Submitted)
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  2. Steinke, M; Hodapp, B; Subhan, R; Bell, TG; Martin-Creuzburg, D. 2018 Flux of the biogenic volatiles isoprene and dimethyl sulfide from an oligotrophic lake. Scientific Reports, 8 (1). 10.1038/s41598-017-18923-5
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  3. Trimmer, M; Chronopoulou, P-M; Maanoja, ST; Upstill-Goddard, RC; Kitidis, V ; Purdy, KJ. 2016 Nitrous oxide as a function of oxygen and archaeal gene abundance in the North Pacific. Nature Communications, 7. 13451. 10.1038/ncomms13451
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  4. Bakker, DCE; Pfeil, B; Landa, CS; Metzl, N; O'Brien, KM; Olsen, A; Smith, K; Cosca, C; Harasawa, S; Jones, SD; Nakaoka, S; Nojiri, Y; Schuster, U; Steinhoff, T; Sweeney, C; Takahashi, T; Tilbrook, B; Wada, C; Wanninkhof, R; Alin, SR; Balestrini, CF; Barbero, L; Bates, NR; Bianchi, AA; Bonou, F; Boutin, J; Bozec, Y; Burger, EF; Cai, W-J; Castle, RD; Chen, L; Chierici, M; Currie, K; Evans, W; Featherstone, C; Feely, RA; Fransson, A; Goyet, C; Greenwood, N; Gregory, L; Hankin, S; Hardman-Mountford, NJ; Harlay, J; Hauck, J; Hoppema, M; Humphreys, MP; Hunt, CW; Huss, B; Ibánhez, JSP; Johannessen, T; Keeling, RF; Kitidis, V ; Kortzinger, A; Kozyr, A; Krasakopoulou, E; Kuwata, A; Landschützer, P; Lauvset, SK; Lefèvre, N; Lo Monaco, C; Manke, A; Mathis, JT; Merlivat, L; Millero, FJ; Monteiro, PMS; Munro, DR; Murata, A; Newberger, T; Omar, AM; Ono, T; Paterson, K; Pearce, D; Pierrot, D; Robbins, LL; Saito, S; Salisbury, J; Schlitzer, R; Schneider, B; Schweitzer, R; Sieger, R; Skjelvan, I; Sullivan, KF; Sutherland, SC; Sutton, AJ; Tadokoro, K; Telszewski, M; Tuma, M; van Heuven, SMAC; Vandemark, D; Ward, B; Watson, AJ; Xu, S. 2016 A multi-decade record of high-quality fCO2 data in version 3 of the Surface Ocean CO2 Atlas (SOCAT). Earth System Science Data, 8 (2). 383-413. 10.5194/essd-8-383-2016
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  5. Hicks, N; Ubbara, GR; Silburn, B; Smith, HEK; Kröger, S; Parker, ER; Sivyer, D; Kitidis, V ; Hatton, A; Mayor, DJ; Stahl, H. 2017 Oxygen dynamics in shelf seas sediments incorporating seasonal variability. Biogeochemistry, 135 (1-2). 35-47. 10.1007/s10533-017-0326-9
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