Articles | Volume 16, issue 4
Research article
23 Feb 2016
Research article |  | 23 Feb 2016

Pre-activation of ice-nucleating particles by the pore condensation and freezing mechanism

Robert Wagner, Alexei Kiselev, Ottmar Möhler, Harald Saathoff, and Isabelle Steinke

Abstract. In spite of the resurgence in ice nucleation research a comparatively small number of studies deal with the phenomenon of pre-activation in heterogeneous ice nucleation. Fifty years ago, it was shown that various mineral dust and volcanic ash particles can be pre-activated to become nuclei for ice crystal formation even at temperatures as high as 270–271 K. Pre-activation was achieved under ice-subsaturated conditions without any preceding macroscopic ice growth by just temporarily cooling the particles to temperatures below 228 K. A two-step mechanism involving capillary condensation of supercooled water and subsequent homogeneous freezing was proposed to account for the particles' enhanced ice nucleation ability at high temperatures. This work reinvestigates the efficiency of the proposed pre-activation mechanism in temperature-cycling experiments performed in a large cloud chamber with suspended particles. We find the efficiency to be highest for the clay mineral illite as well as for highly porous materials like zeolite and diatomaceous earth, whereas most aerosols generated from desert dust surface samples did not reveal a measurable pre-activation ability. The pre-activation efficiency is linked to particle pores in a certain size range. As estimated by model calculations, only pores with diameters between about 5 and 8 nm contribute to pre-activation under ice-subsaturated conditions. This range is set by a combination of requirements from the negative Kelvin effect for condensation and a critical size of ice embryos for ice nucleation and melting. In contrast to the early study, pre-activation is only observed for temperatures below 260 K. Above that threshold, the particles' improved ice nucleation ability disappears due to the melting of ice in the pores.

Short summary
We have investigated the enhancement of the ice nucleation ability of well-known and abundant ice nucleating particles like dust grains due to pre-activation. Temporary exposure to a low temperature (228 K) provokes that pores and surface cracks of the particles are filled with ice, which makes them better nuclei for the growth of macroscopic ice crystals at high temperatures (245–260 K).
Final-revised paper