Articles | Volume 13, issue 9
Research article
06 May 2013
Research article |  | 06 May 2013

Heterogeneous ice nucleation on phase-separated organic-sulfate particles: effect of liquid vs. glassy coatings

G. P. Schill and M. A. Tolbert

Abstract. Atmospheric ice nucleation on aerosol particles relevant to cirrus clouds remains one of the least understood processes in the atmosphere. Upper tropospheric aerosols as well as sub-visible cirrus residues are known to be enhanced in both sulfates and organics. The hygroscopic phase transitions of organic-sulfate particles can have an impact on both the cirrus cloud formation mechanism and resulting cloud microphysical properties. In addition to deliquescence and efflorescence, organic-sulfate particles are known to undergo another phase transition known as liquid–liquid phase separation. The ice nucleation properties of particles that have undergone liquid–liquid phase separation are unknown.

Here, Raman microscopy coupled with an environmental cell was used to study the low temperature deliquescence, efflorescence, and liquid–liquid phase separation behavior of 2 : 1 mixtures of organic polyols (1,2,6-hexanetriol and 1 : 1 1,2,6-hexanetriol + 2,2,6,6-tetrakis(hydroxymethyl)cyclohexanol) and ammonium sulfate from 240–265 K. Further, the ice nucleation efficiency of these organic-sulfate systems after liquid–liquid phase separation and efflorescence was investigated from 210–235 K. Raman mapping and volume-geometry analysis indicate that these particles contain solid ammonium sulfate cores fully engulfed in organic shells. For the ice nucleation experiments, we find that if the organic coatings are liquid, water vapor diffuses through the shell and ice nucleates on the ammonium sulfate core. In this case, the coatings minimally affect the ice nucleation efficiency of ammonium sulfate. In contrast, if the coatings become semi-solid or glassy, ice instead nucleates on the organic shell. Consistent with recent findings that glasses can be efficient ice nuclei, the phase-separated particles are nearly as efficient at ice nucleation as pure crystalline ammonium sulfate.

Final-revised paper