The sea surface microlayer (SML) is the boundary interface between the atmosphere and ocean, covering about 70% of Earth's surface. With an operationally defined thickness between 1 and 1,000 μm (1.0 mm), the SML has physicochemical and biological properties that are measurably distinct from underlying waters. Recent studies now indicate that the SML covers the ocean to a significant extent, and evidence shows that it is an aggregate-enriched biofilm environment with distinct microbial communities. Because of its unique position at the air-sea interface, the SML is central to a range of global marine biogeochemical and climate-related processes.
The sea surface microlayer is the boundary layer where all exchange occurs between the atmosphere and the ocean. The chemical, physical, and biological properties of the SML differ greatly from the sub-surface water just a few centimeters beneath.
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 provide an essential contribution to the reduction of uncertainties regarding ocean-climate feedbacks. As of 2017, processes occurring within the SML, as well as the associated rates of material exchange through the SML, remained poorly understood and were rarely represented in marine and atmospheric numerical models.
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