Articles | Volume 16, issue 6
Research article
21 Mar 2016
Research article |  | 21 Mar 2016

Processes controlling the annual cycle of Arctic aerosol number and size distributions

Betty Croft, Randall V. Martin, W. Richard Leaitch, Peter Tunved, Thomas J. Breider, Stephen D. D'Andrea, and Jeffrey R. Pierce

Abstract. Measurements at high-Arctic sites (Alert, Nunavut, and Mt. Zeppelin, Svalbard) during the years 2011 to 2013 show a strong and similar annual cycle in aerosol number and size distributions. Each year at both sites, the number of aerosols with diameters larger than 20 nm exhibits a minimum in October and two maxima, one in spring associated with a dominant accumulation mode (particles 100 to 500 nm in diameter) and a second in summer associated with a dominant Aitken mode (particles 20 to 100 nm in diameter). Seasonal-mean aerosol effective diameter from measurements ranges from about 180 in summer to 260 nm in winter. This study interprets these annual cycles with the GEOS-Chem-TOMAS global aerosol microphysics model. Important roles are documented for several processes (new-particle formation, coagulation scavenging in clouds, scavenging by precipitation, and transport) in controlling the annual cycle in Arctic aerosol number and size.

Our simulations suggest that coagulation scavenging of interstitial aerosols in clouds by aerosols that have activated to form cloud droplets strongly limits the total number of particles with diameters less than 200 nm throughout the year. We find that the minimum in total particle number in October can be explained by diminishing new-particle formation within the Arctic, limited transport of pollution from lower latitudes, and efficient wet removal. Our simulations indicate that the summertime-dominant Aitken mode is associated with efficient wet removal of accumulation-mode aerosols, which limits the condensation sink for condensable vapours. This in turn promotes new-particle formation and growth. The dominant accumulation mode during spring is associated with build up of transported pollution from outside the Arctic coupled with less-efficient wet-removal processes at colder temperatures. We recommend further attention to the key processes of new-particle formation, interstitial coagulation, and wet removal and their delicate interactions and balance in size-resolved aerosol simulations of the Arctic to reduce uncertainties in estimates of aerosol radiative effects on the Arctic climate.

Short summary
Measurements at high-Arctic sites show a strong annual cycle in atmospheric particle number and size. Previous studies identified poor scientific understanding related to global model representation of Arctic particle number and size, limiting ability to simulate this environment. Here we evaluate state-of-science ability to simulate Arctic particles using GEOS-Chem-TOMAS model, documenting key roles and interconnections of particle formation, cloud-related processes and remaining uncertainties.
Final-revised paper