Contribution of pollen to atmospheric ice nuclei concentrations
Abstract. Recent studies have suggested that the ice-nucleating ability of some types of pollen is derived from non-proteinaceous macromolecules. These macromolecules may become dispersed by the rupturing of the pollen grain during wetting and drying cycles in the atmosphere. If true, this mechanism might prove to be a significant source of ice nuclei (IN) concentrations when pollen is present. Here we test this hypothesis by measuring ambient IN concentrations from the beginning to the end of the 2013 pollen season in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. Air samples were collected using a swirling aerosol collector twice per week and the solutions were analysed for ice nuclei activity using a droplet freezing assay. Rainwater samples were collected at times when pollen grain number concentrations were near their maximum value and analysed with the drop-freezing assay to compare the potentially enhanced IN concentrations measured near the ground with IN concentrations found aloft. Ambient ice nuclei spectra, defined as the number of ice nuclei per volume of air as a function of temperature, are inferred from the aerosol collector solutions. No general trend was observed between ambient pollen grain counts and observed IN concentrations, suggesting that ice nuclei multiplication via pollen grain rupturing and subsequent release of macromolecules was not prevalent for the pollen types and meteorological conditions typically encountered in the southeastern US. A serendipitously sampled collection after a downpour provided evidence for a rain-induced IN burst with an observed IN concentration of approximately 30 per litre, a 30-fold increase over background concentrations at −20 °C. The onset temperature of freezing for these particles was approximately −12 °C, suggesting that the ice-nucleating particles were biological in origin.