The central focus of the Earth, Wind & Particles research group in the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Department at UCLA is to understand and quantify interactions between particles and the climate system. This research is critical because climate impact of aerosols (particles suspended in the atmosphere) constitutes one of the main uncertainties in our understanding of both past and future climate changes.
Within the broad field of aerosol-climate interactions, most of our group’s work focuses on desert dust aerosols, which are the constituent particles of dust storms, and are the dominant atmospheric aerosol by mass. Dust particles are a hazard to human health, and impact climate by scattering and absorbing sunlight, seeding clouds, and by darkening snowpacks and fertilizing ecosystems upon deposition. Many of these effects are only starting to become understood, which is problematic because the amount of dust in the atmosphere is known to be quite sensitive to climate changes. So as the climate changes due to rising greenhouse gases, this could trigger potentially large changes in atmospheric dust loading. This would in turn either oppose or enhance anthropogenic climate changes – we don’t currently know which! In addition to dust producing possibly important climate feedbacks, about a quarter of current dust emissions are (in)directly due to human actions, such as land use changes, which are considered an anthropogenic forcing of the climate system, similar to the emission of greenhouse gases.
In order to quantify these convoluted interactions between desert dust and climate, our group’s research strives to understand both the fundamental processes of dust emission and deposition, and the resulting impacts of desert dust on climate. To so so, our group develops new theories and parameterizations, uses first-principles numerical models, and conducts (occasional) laboratory and field measurements. We also use climate models to translate the resulting insights into small-scale processes to improved quantifications of dust impacts on climate. Finally, our group is interested in aeolian processes across the solar system, and in particular in unraveling the mysteries of sand transport and dust emission in Mars’ dilute atmosphere and on Saturn’s fascinatingly Earth-like moon Titan. Our group’s research is discussed in more detail here.
The Earth, Wind & Particles research group is headed by professor Jasper Kok, and funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Army Research Office, and the U.S. – Israel Binational Science Foundation.