Do atmospheric aerosols form glasses?
- 1Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
- 2Department of Chemistry, Bielefeld University, Bielefeld, Germany
Abstract. A new process is presented by which water soluble organics might influence ice nucleation, ice growth, chemical reactions and water uptake of aerosols in the upper troposphere: the formation of glassy aerosol particles. Glasses are disordered amorphous (non-crystalline) solids that form when a liquid is cooled without crystallization until the viscosity increases exponentially and molecular diffusion practically ceases. The glass transition temperatures, Tg, homogeneous ice nucleation temperatures, Thom, and ice melting temperatures, Tm, of various aqueous inorganic, organic and multi-component solutions are investigated with a differential scanning calorimeter. The investigated solutes are: various polyols, glucose, raffinose, levoglucosan, an aromatic compound, sulfuric acid, ammonium bisulfate and mixtures of dicarboxylic acids (M5), of dicarboxylic acids and ammonium sulfate (M5AS), of two polyols, of glucose and ammonium nitrate, and of raffinose and M5AS. The results indicate that aqueous solutions of the investigated inorganic solutes show Tg values that are too low to be of atmospheric importance. In contrast, aqueous organic and multi-component solutions readily form glasses at low but atmospherically relevant temperatures (≤230 K). To apply the laboratory data to the atmospheric situation, the measured phase transition temperatures were transformed from a concentration to a water activity scale by extrapolating water activities determined between 252 K and 313 K to lower temperatures. The obtained state diagrams reveal that the higher the molar mass of the aqueous organic or multi-component solutes, the higher Tg of their respective solutions at a given water activity. To a lesser extent, Tg also depends on the hydrophilicity of the organic solutes. Therefore, aerosol particles containing larger (≳150 g mol−1) and more hydrophobic organic molecules are more likely to form glasses at intermediate to high relative humidities in the upper troposphere. Our results suggest that the water uptake of aerosols, heterogeneous chemical reactions in aerosol particles, as well as ice nucleation and ice crystal growth can be significantly impeded or even completely inhibited in organic-enriched aerosols at upper tropospheric temperatures with implications for cirrus cloud formation and upper tropospheric relative humidity.