National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2022

Solid organic-coated ammonium sulfate particles at high relative humidity in the summertime Arctic atmosphere

Kirpes, R.M., Z. Lei, M. Fraund, M.J. Gunsch, N.W. May, T.E. Barrett, C.E. Moffet, A. Schauer, B. Alexander, L. Upchurch, S. China, P.K. Quinn, R.C. Moffet, A. Laskin, R.J. Sheesle, K.A. Pratt, and A.P. Ault

Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 119(14), e2104496119, doi: 10.1073/pnas.2104496119, View article online (2022)

Significance. Physical and chemical properties of individual atmospheric particles determine their climate impacts. Hygroscopic inorganic salt particles mixed with trace amounts of organic material are predicted to be liquid under typical tropospheric conditions in the summertime Arctic. Yet, we unexpectedly observed a significant concentration of solid particles composed of ammonium sulfate with an organic coating under conditions of high relative humidity and low temperature. These particle properties are consistent with marine biogenic-derived new particle formation and growth, with particle collision hypothesized to result in the solid phase. This particle source is predicted to have increasing relevance in the context of declining Arctic sea ice and increasing open water, with impacts on clouds, and therefore climate.

Abstract. The ability of atmospheric aerosols to impact climate through water uptake and cloud formation is fundamentally determined by the size, composition, and phase (liquid, semisolid, or solid) of individual particles. Particle phase is dependent on atmospheric conditions (relative humidity and temperature) and chemical composition and, importantly, solid particles can inhibit the uptake of water and other trace gases, even under humid conditions. Particles composed primarily of ammonium sulfate are presumed to be liquid at the relative humidities (67 to 98%) and temperatures (−2 to 4 °C) of the summertime Arctic. Under these atmospheric conditions, we report the observation of solid organic-coated ammonium sulfate particles representing 30% of particles, by number, in a key size range (<0.2 µm) for cloud activation within marine air masses from the Arctic Ocean at Utqiaġvik, AK. The composition and size of the observed particles are consistent with recent Arctic modeling and observational results showing new particle formation and growth from dimethylsulfide oxidation to form sulfuric acid, reaction with ammonia, and condensation of marine biogenic sulfate and highly oxygenated organic molecules. Aqueous sulfate particles typically undergo efflorescence and solidify at relative humidities of less than 34%. Therefore, the observed solid phase is hypothesized to occur from contact efflorescence during collision of a newly formed Aitken mode sulfate particle with an organic-coated ammonium sulfate particle. With declining sea ice in the warming Arctic, this particle source is expected to increase with increasing open water and marine biogenic emissions.

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