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Tight coupling of particle size and composition in atmospheric cloud droplet activation

Author(s): D. Topping | G. McFiggans

Journal: Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions
ISSN 1680-7367

Volume: 11;
Issue: 9;
Start page: 25155;
Date: 2011;
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The substantial uncertainty in the indirect effect on radiative forcing in large part arises from the influences of atmospheric aerosol particles on (i) the brightness of clouds, exerting significant shortwave cooling with no appreciable compensation in the longwave, and on (ii) their ability to precipitate, with implications for cloud cover and lifetime. Predicting the ambient conditions at which aerosol particles may become cloud droplets is largely reliant on an equilibrium relationship derived in 1936. However, the theoretical basis of the relationship restricts its application to particles solely comprising involatile compounds and water, whereas a substantial fraction of particles in the real atmosphere will contain potentially thousands of semi-volatile organic compounds in addition to containing semi-volatile inorganic components such as ammonium nitrate. We show that equilibration of atmospherically reasonable concentrations of organic compounds with a growing particle as the ambient humidity increases has larger implications on cloud droplet formation than any other equilibrium compositional dependence, owing to inextricable linkage between the aerosol composition and a particles size under ambient conditions. Whilst previous attempts to account for co-condensation of gases other than water vapour have been restricted to one inorganic condensate, our method demonstrates that accounting for the co-condensation of any number of organic compounds substantially decreases the saturation ratio of water vapour required for droplet activation. This effect is far greater than any other compositional dependence; moreso even than the unphysical effect of surface tension reduction in aqueous organic mixtures, ignoring differences in bulk and surface surfactant concentrations.

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