How do air ions reflect variations in ionising radiation in the lower atmosphere in a boreal forest?
- 1Department of Physics, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 64, 00014 Helsinki, Finland
- 2Finnish Meteorological Institute, Observation services, P.O. Box 503, 00101 Helsinki, Finland
- 3Department of Applied Physics, University of Eastern Finland, P.O. Box 1627, 70211 Kuopio, Finland
Abstract. Most of the ion production in the atmosphere is attributed to ionising radiation. In the lower atmosphere, ionising radiation consists mainly of the decay emissions of radon and its progeny, gamma radiation of the terrestrial origin as well as photons and elementary particles of cosmic radiation. These types of radiation produce ion pairs via the ionisation of nitrogen and oxygen as well as trace species in the atmosphere, the rate of which is defined as the ionising capacity. Larger air ions are produced out of the initial charge carriers by processes such as clustering or attachment to pre-existing aerosol particles. This study aimed (1) to identify the key factors responsible for the variability in ionising radiation and in the observed air ion concentrations, (2) to reveal the linkage between them and (3) to provide an in-depth analysis into the effects of ionising radiation on air ion formation, based on measurement data collected during 2003–2006 from a boreal forest site in southern Finland. In general, gamma radiation dominated the ion production in the lower atmosphere. Variations in the ionising capacity came from mixing layer dynamics, soil type and moisture content, meteorological conditions, long-distance transportation, snow cover attenuation and precipitation. Slightly similar diurnal patterns to variations in the ionising capacity were observed in air ion concentrations of the cluster size (0.8–1.7 nm in mobility diameters). However, features observed in the 0.8–1 nm ion concentration were in good connection to variations of the ionising capacity. Further, by carefully constraining perturbing variables, a strong dependency of the cluster ion concentration on the ionising capacity was identified, proving the functionality of ionising radiation in air ion production in the lower atmosphere. This relationship, however, was only clearly observed on new particle formation (NPF) days, possibly indicating that charges after being born underwent different processes on NPF days and non-event days and also that the transformation of newly formed charges to cluster ions occurred in a shorter timescale on NPF days than on non-event days.