The observation of nitric acid-containing particles in the tropical lower stratosphere
Abstract. Airborne in situ measurements over the eastern Pacific Ocean in January 2004 have revealed a new category of nitric acid (HNO3)-containing particles in the tropical lower stratosphere. These particles are most likely composed of nitric acid trihydrate (NAT). They were intermittently observed in a narrow layer above the tropopause (18±0.1 km) and over a broad geographic extent (>1100 km). In contrast to the background liquid sulfate aerosol, these particles are solid, much larger (1.7-4.7 µm vs. 0.1µm in diameter), and significantly less abundant (<10-4 cm-3 vs. 10 cm-3). Microphysical trajectory models suggest that the NAT particles grow over a 6-14 day period in supersaturated air that remains close to the tropical tropopause and might be a common feature in the tropics. The small number density of these particles implies a highly selective or slow nucleation process. Understanding the formation of solid NAT particles in the tropics could improve our understanding of stratospheric nucleation processes and, therefore, dehydration and denitrification.