Articles | Volume 14, issue 22
Research article
27 Nov 2014
Research article |  | 27 Nov 2014

Competition between water uptake and ice nucleation by glassy organic aerosol particles

T. Berkemeier, M. Shiraiwa, U. Pöschl, and T. Koop

Abstract. Organic aerosol particles play a key role in climate by serving as nuclei for clouds and precipitation. Their sources and composition are highly variable, and their phase state ranges from liquid to solid under atmospheric conditions, affecting the pathway of activation to cloud droplets and ice crystals. Due to slow diffusion of water in the particle phase, organic particles may deviate in phase and morphology from their thermodynamic equilibrium state, hampering the prediction of their influence on cloud formation. We overcome this problem by combining a novel semi-empirical method for estimation of water diffusivity with a kinetic flux model that explicitly treats water diffusion. We estimate timescales for particle deliquescence as well as various ice nucleation pathways for a wide variety of organic substances, including secondary organic aerosol (SOA) from the oxidation of isoprene, α-pinene, naphthalene, and dodecane. The simulations show that, in typical atmospheric updrafts, glassy states and solid/liquid core-shell morphologies can persist for long enough that heterogeneous ice nucleation in the deposition and immersion mode can dominate over homogeneous ice nucleation. Such competition depends strongly on ambient temperature and relative humidity as well as humidification rate and particle size. Due to differences in glass transition temperature, hygroscopicity and atomic O / C ratio of the different SOA, naphthalene SOA particles have the highest potential to act as heterogeneous ice nuclei. Our findings demonstrate that kinetic limitations of water diffusion into organic aerosol particles are likely to be encountered under atmospheric conditions and can strongly affect ice nucleation pathways. For the incorporation of ice nucleation by organic aerosol particles into atmospheric models, our results demonstrate a demand for model formalisms that account for the effects of molecular diffusion and not only describe ice nucleation onsets as a function of temperature and relative humidity but also include updraft velocity, particle size and composition.

Short summary
Glassy organic particles can serve as ice nuclei at low temperatures. We provide a rationale for these findings using a numerical aerosol diffusion model that describes particle phase state and its kinetics during simulated atmospheric updrafts dependent upon composition, size, updraft velocity, temperature and humidity. Our simulations suggest that aerosols from anthropogenic aromatic organics can be particularly relevant for ice cloud formation.
Final-revised paper