Articles | Volume 10, issue 16
16 Aug 2010
 | 16 Aug 2010

High variability of the heterogeneous ice nucleation potential of oxalic acid dihydrate and sodium oxalate

R. Wagner, O. Möhler, H. Saathoff, M. Schnaiter, and T. Leisner

Abstract. The heterogeneous ice nucleation potential of airborne oxalic acid dihydrate and sodium oxalate particles in the deposition and condensation mode has been investigated by controlled expansion cooling cycles in the AIDA aerosol and cloud chamber of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology at temperatures between 244 and 228 K. Previous laboratory studies have highlighted the particular role of oxalic acid dihydrate as the only species amongst a variety of other investigated dicarboxylic acids to be capable of acting as a heterogeneous ice nucleus in both the deposition and immersion mode. We could confirm a high deposition mode ice activity for 0.03 to 0.8 μm sized oxalic acid dihydrate particles that were either formed by nucleation from a gaseous oxalic acid/air mixture or by rapid crystallisation of highly supersaturated aqueous oxalic acid solution droplets. The critical saturation ratio with respect to ice required for deposition nucleation was found to be less than 1.1 and the size-dependent ice-active fraction of the aerosol population was in the range from 0.1 to 22%. In contrast, oxalic acid dihydrate particles that had crystallised from less supersaturated solution droplets and had been allowed to slowly grow in a supersaturated environment from still unfrozen oxalic acid solution droplets over a time period of several hours were found to be much poorer heterogeneous ice nuclei. We speculate that under these conditions a crystal surface structure with less-active sites for the initiation of ice nucleation was generated. Such particles partially proved to be almost ice-inactive in both the deposition and condensation mode. At times, the heterogeneous ice nucleation ability of oxalic acid dihydrate significantly changed when the particles had been processed in preceding cloud droplet activation steps. Such behaviour was also observed for the second investigated species, namely sodium oxalate. Our experiments address the atmospheric scenario that coating layers of oxalic acid or its salts may be formed by physical and chemical processing on pre-existing particulates such as mineral dust and soot. Given the broad diversity of the observed heterogeneous ice nucleability of the oxalate species, it is not straightforward to predict whether an oxalate coating layer will improve or reduce the ice nucleation ability of the seed aerosol particles.

Final-revised paper