18 May 2022
18 May 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

Long-Term Monitoring of Cloud Water Chemistry at Whiteface Mountain: The Emergence of a New Chemical Regime

Christopher E. Lawrence1, Paul Casson1, Richard Brandt1, James J. Schwab1, James E. Dukett2, Phil Snyder2, Elizabeth Yerger3, Daniel Kelting3, Trevor C. VandenBoer4, and Sara Lance1 Christopher E. Lawrence et al.
  • 1Atmospheric Sciences Research Center (ASRC), University at Albany, SUNY ETEC building, 1220 Washington Ave, Albany NY 12226
  • 2Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation (ALSC), 1115 NYS Rt.86, P.O. BOX 296, Ray Brook NY 12977
  • 3Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute (AWI), P. O. Box 265, Routes 86 and 30, Paul Smiths NY 12970
  • 4Department of Chemistry, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Abstract. Atmospheric aqueous chemistry can have profound effects on our environment. The importance of chemistry within the atmospheric aqueous phase was first realized in the 1970s as there was growing concern over the negative impacts on ecosystem health from acid deposition. Research at mountaintop observatories including Whiteface Mountain (WFM) showed that gas phase sulfur dioxide emissions react in cloud droplets to form sulfuric acid, which also impacted aerosol mass loadings. Cloud chemistry research has experienced a major resurgence in scientific interest due to the potential for aqueous chemical processes to fill the gap between modeled and observed organic aerosol mass.

The current study updates the long-term trends in cloud water composition at WFM for the past 28 years (1994–2021). Substantial decreases in sulfate (SO42-) and nitrate (NO3-) concentrations have not been matched by an equivalent decrease in ammonium (NH4+) concentrations, leading to significantly higher cloud droplet pH. Meanwhile, Total Organic Carbon (TOC) concentrations may be increasing (both in relative and absolute terms). In the past, samples were excluded from trend analysis if they did not meet an approximate ion balance, which resulted in approximately half of samples being excluded in recent years. We show that, when including the entire available dataset, decreasing trends in SO42-, NO3- and NH4+ become more modest, TOC concentrations increase at a faster rate, and increasing trends in Ca2+ and Mg2+ emerge. A growing trend in cation / anion ratios is also observed, implying that a significant fraction of anions are not being measured with the current suite of measurements, and these missing anions are growing in importance. Organic acids are identified as the most likely candidates for the missing anions, since the measured ion imbalance correlates strongly with measured TOC concentrations. The TOC trend becomes statistically insignificant when evaluating cloud water loadings (or air equivalent mass loadings), possibly due to the complex role that LWC may play in TOC concentrations. We highlight the emergence of a new chemical regime characterized by low acidity and relatively high conductivity, and increasing TOC and base cation concentrations. With the increasing impact from Ca2+ and Mg2+ on the bulk cloud water pH, which are largely thought to reside within coarse mode aerosol that only represent a small fraction of cloud droplets, an "inferred cloud droplet pH" is introduced, to better represent the pH of the vast majority of cloud droplets as they reside in the atmosphere. While measured pH has increased during the history of the monitoring site, the cloud droplet pH has remained relatively flat since 2009. We also show that there is a missing source of acidity in the system that correlates with TOC. The chemical system at WFM has shifted away from a system dominated by SO42- to a system controlled by base cation, nitrogen containing species and TOC. Further research is required to understand the effects on air quality, climate, and ecosystem health.

Christopher E. Lawrence et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on acp-2022-313', Anonymous Referee #1, 27 Jun 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on acp-2022-313', Anonymous Referee #2, 29 Jun 2022

Christopher E. Lawrence et al.

Christopher E. Lawrence et al.


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Short summary
Atmospheric aqueous chemistry can have profound effects on our environment, as illustrated by historical data from Whiteface Mountain (WFM) that was critical for uncovering the process of acid rain. The current study updates the long-term trends in cloud water composition at WFM for the past 28 years (1994–2021). We highlight the emergence of a new chemical regime dominated by organics and ammonium, quite different from the highly acidic regime observed in the past, but not necessarily “clean”.