Observation of nitrate coatings on atmospheric mineral dust particles
Abstract. Nitrate compounds have received much attention because of their ability to alter the hygroscopic properties and cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) activity of mineral dust particles in the atmosphere. However, very little is known about specific characteristics of ambient nitrate-coated mineral particles on an individual particle scale. In this study, sample collection was conducted during brown haze and dust episodes between 24 May and 21 June 2007 in Beijing, northern China. Sizes, morphologies, and compositions of 332 mineral dust particles together with their coatings were analyzed using transmission electron microscopy (TEM) coupled with energy-dispersive X-ray (EDX) microanalyses. Structures of some mineral particles were verified using selected-area electron diffraction (SAED). TEM observation indicates that approximately 90% of the collected mineral particles are covered by visible coatings in haze samples whereas only 5% are coated in the dust sample. 92% of the analyzed mineral particles are covered with Ca-, Mg-, and Na-rich coatings, and 8% are associated with K- and S-rich coatings. The majority of coatings contain Ca, Mg, O, and N with minor amounts of S and Cl, suggesting that they are possibly nitrates mixed with small amounts of sulfates and chlorides. These nitrate coatings are strongly correlated with the presence of alkaline mineral components (e.g., calcite and dolomite). CaSO4 particles with diameters from 10 to 500 nm were also detected in the coatings including Ca(NO3)2 and Mg(NO3)2. Our results indicate that mineral particles in brown haze episodes were involved in atmospheric heterogeneous reactions with two or more acidic gases (e.g., SO2, NO2, HCl, and HNO3). Mineral particles that acquire hygroscopic nitrate coatings tend to be more spherical and larger, enhancing their light scattering and CCN activity, both of which have cooling effects on the climate.