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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 12, issue 7 | Copyright
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 12, 3253-3260, 2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 04 Apr 2012

Research article | 04 Apr 2012

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

D. O. Topping1,2 and G. McFiggans2 D. O. Topping and G. McFiggans
  • 1National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  • 2Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

Abstract. The substantial uncertainty in the indirect effect of aerosol particles 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 long wave, 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 by Köhler (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 potentially larger implications on cloud droplet formation than any other equilibrium compositional dependence, owing to inextricable linkage between the aerosol composition, a particles size and concentration 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; more so 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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