Whats The Big Idea? — Pulling Water Out of Thin Air

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Detailed Description

Alicia Torregrosa, physical scientist with the USGS Western Geographic Science Center, explains how her work with coastal fog might one day help access new sources of water.


Date Taken:

Length: 00:02:53

Location Taken: Menlo Park, CA, US

Video Credits

Producer: Jacob Massey, USGS
Camera: Leslie Gordon, USGS.


Hi, I’m Alicia Torregrosa. I work in the Menlo Park, California, office of USGS Western  Geographic Science Center and I’m a physical scientist.  

People ask me: “Why do you study coastal fog?” and fog events have water and in very arid, parched  places like California, water is a big deal. If we can pull some of this water out of the air in the summers,  we could really make a difference for wildlife and other needs. 

We’re working with many partners to understand efficiency of different materials such as this 3D, plastic  mesh that helps collect the fog droplets and another company that is coating this with a nanomaterial  that makes it more slippery and the fog droplets will drip faster and not evaporate. This is helping us  understand how much water there is in different fog events and also, what different kinds fog droplets  are there. 

Fog research requires a lot of innovations. Fog droplets are so small that we need instruments that can  look at these very, very microphysical properties and it’s an area of huge innovation because we’ve got  huge amounts of data that require a lot of different statistical and big data manipulations. And then  there’s also the relationships that we need to bring together ocean data, because of the sea sprays that  create the aerosols that the coastal fog droplets are going to aggregate around are interacting with land,  are interacting with biological entities — planktons, microbes, bacteria. There’s a lot of innovations,  both in our thinking, in the instruments that we need to use, and also in the partnerships that we have  to create in order to be able to understand the system that is making the fog.