Marine Atmospheric Composition & Visibility

OFI Large Research Module A

This research will investigate marine atmospheric composition, including fog, low cloud and haze, and seek to understand its effects on visibility, climate and air quality across the Northwest Atlantic Ocean and the Canadian Arctic Gateway. Accurate forecasts of the dynamic marine atmosphere would support safe shipping and aviation — and our understanding of the effects of changing air quality on northern coastal communities.

The research

Visibility can change quickly in the Northwest Atlantic, resulting in dangerous conditions for shipping and aviation. This creates risk for people who travel by sea and air and puts in jeopardy the economic benefits derived through the goods and services enabled by the transportation. In addition, those who live in northern coastal communities are vulnerable to declining air quality. As climate change decreases the amount of ice in the Northwest Atlantic, more and more ships are travelling through the region, producing pollution-causing emissions.

Marine aerosols are the microscopic particles in the atmosphere that degrade air quality in coastal communities and lead to decreased visibility by creating haze and fog.  

The marine atmosphere in Canada’s north is dynamic and unique. Aerosol types — fog, clouds, visibility and air quality — are all influenced by ship emissions, oceanic and land-based sources of aerosols, sea ice extent, precipitation and weather patterns.

Accurate, data-driven models to forecast atmospheric composition and marine visibility will be critical as climate warming continues, ice extent decreases and transportation and other activities in the north increase.

This research has five objectives:

1.     Better understand the processes that control the types of particles found in the marine atmosphere

2.     Determine how aerosols affect visibility in the Northwest Atlantic and Canadian Arctic Gateway

3.     Determine what factors degrade visibility along the coast and in the marine atmosphere, examining fog formation and its properties

4.     Predict visibility in the marine atmosphere using computer modeling, ship-board measurements and satellite imagery

5.     Determine the quantity of aerosols in marine and northern environments that come from natural, human and transported sources.

The impact

Low visibility and the challenge of predicting its occurrence are related to the safety and efficiency of shipping and aviation in Canada’s north. This work is important for improving understanding of the particles found in the marine atmosphere and their effects on visibility, for climate and air quality, and for forecasting atmospheric conditions more accurately in the Northwest Atlantic. 

The research team:

Primary Investigator Rachel Chang leads a team of researchers from Dalhousie University and Memorial University of Newfoundland, comprised of experts in atmospheric science, geography, math, oceanography and chemistry. Team members include Cora Young and multidisciplinary researchers Alex Bihlo, Joel Finnis and Doug Wallace.

Project partners include:

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  • Alfred-Wegner Institut of Germany
  • Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of the United States
  • AMEC Foster Wheeler  

Research connection: making ocean navigation more safe
Collaboration is key to OFI, as a lot of the research projects benefit from the scientific analysis and know-how that is happening elsewhere through the institute. This includes supporting “Safe Navigation and Environmental Protection” — work that will improve safety at sea, marine environment and the protection of Indigenous Peoples’ interests.