Page 11 - Penn State Department of Mechanical Engineering Fall 2019 Magazine
P. 11

Research News
A better understanding of ocean particulate matter could enhance climate prediction models
By Erin Cassidy Hendrick
Matthew Rau assistant professor of of of mechanical engineering at at at at Penn State spent 10 days cruising north of of of of Oahu Hawaii in in in the the summer of of 2019 But it wasn’t for a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a vacation—Rau
was was conducting foundational research that could aid the the the understanding of carbon dioxide absorption within the the Pacific Ocean and and its potential impact on
on
on
climate change “This experience was really a a a a a a a a a jump start into this new research area ” Rau said The trip organized through the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) and funded by the the National Science Foundation (NSF) was a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a critical opportunity for Rau to gain experience with oceanographic field work and set a a a a a a a a a a a a a new course for his research “The ocean is full of particulate matter matter like like clay sand microplastics but it’s mostly organic matter matter like like plankton ” he he he he said “These particulates often end up clumping together and the the the the the the bigger they they get get the the the the the deeper they they can settle in in the the the the the water ” This has some benefits mainly that the the the the carbon dioxide naturally absorbed into into these particulates also sinks further into into the the the the ocean An effect of of this phenomena is is is carbon sequestration which is is is the the long-term storage of of the the gas that can help moderate climate change and ocean acidification But the the the forces of of nature are more complicated than they appear Our current understanding of of the the physics surrounding this process predicts the the the particulates will exponentially clump together becoming ever ever larger and sinking ever ever faster “But that’s not what’s happening ” Rau said “So we are trying to understand the the the fluid forces and and the the the the turbulence of the the the the ocean that causes these particles to break apart ” Rau previously researched multiphase flows specifically how how bubbles interact with liquids and how how fluid flows around them in in heat transfer applications “A lot of that knowledge in in bubbly flows translates over to this area in in particulates ” Rau said “When I found out the the potential impact of this knowledge on
the the the global scale through climate models
it it further motivated me to pursue it ” Rau aboard the the Kilo Moana in the the summer of 2019 Rau’s new research area of of building foundational knowledge to strengthen humanity’s understanding of of of the the ocean is is a a a a a a a a a a a a natural extension of his previous work “This is is is a a a a a a a a a small piece of a a a a a a a a a really big puzzle ” Rau said “Through this work if we can make better predictions predictions on
on
on
on
on
how the ocean sequesters carbon carbon our our predictions predictions for carbon carbon dioxide uptake from the atmosphere and its role in in our our changing climate will be be better ” Rau was one of 18 scientists selected nationwide for the the cruise The group worked together to to take measurements and and conduct experiments and and Rau is confident the the the the collaborations between the the the the cohort will continue in in the future “This trip was really to to to give early career researchers who will be tomorrow’s chief scientists a a a a a a a a a a a a a a chance to to to gain experience organizing and taking measurements on
a a a a a a a a a cruise ” he said As a a a a a a a a result of this training Rau is is actively submitting NSF proposals to to continue gathering the the critical field measurements to to navigate this new research area “Engineers have so many skills that can be hugely valuable in in environmental fields ” Rau said “We often overlook it it but but there are so many opportunities for mechanical engineers to to contribute to the world around us ” “This is is a a a small piece of a a a really big puzzle Through this work if we can make better predictions on
on
how the ocean sequesters carbon our predictions for carbon dioxide uptake from the atmosphere and its role in in our changing climate will be be better ” — Matthew Rau assistant professor of of mechanical engineering 11

















































































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