15 Jul 2022
15 Jul 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

The Urmia Playa as source of airborne dust and ice nucleating particles – Part 1: Correlation between soils and airborne samples

Nikou Hamzehpour1,2, Claudia Marcolli2, Sara Pashai1, Kristian Klumpp2, and Thomas Peter2 Nikou Hamzehpour et al.
  • 1Department of Soil Science and Engineering, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Maragheh, Maragheh, Postal Box: 83111- 55181, Iran
  • 2Department of Environmental Systems Science, Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Sciences, ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract. The emergence of desiccated lakebed sediments and their exposure to wind erosion as a consequence of climate change and drought in arid and semiarid regions of the world poses a growing hazard. Airborne dust originating from such soils can create health and environmental issues due to their high salt content and the presence of toxic elements. The aim of the present study is twofold, namely to investigate the newly emerged playa surfaces of the western Lake Urmia (LU) in Iran and their contribution to aerosol in the region by means of physicochemical, mineralogical and elemental analyses, and to study the ice nucleation (IN) activity of both surface-collected soil and airborne dust samples. The playa surfaces created by desiccation of LU on the west shores were mapped and sampled at 130 locations. Soil samples were subjected to physicochemical analyses and their erodible fraction was determined. Based on these analyses, four highly erodible playa surfaces from northwest to the south of LU were selected as sites for collection of dust by impaction and soil samples from the uppermost surface. Their particle physicochemical properties (size distribution, elemental and mineralogical composition) were compared with their IN activity determined by emulsion freezing experiments in a differential scanning calorimeter (DSC) in two suspension concentrations of 2 wt % and 5 wt %. The physicochemical soil properties differed significantly between the different playa surfaces, which affects their susceptibility to wind erosion. Sand sheets and sandy salt crusts were the most erodible playa surfaces due to their high sand fraction, low organic matter and clay content, favoring the presence of small aggregates. Mineralogical analyses document the prevalence of quartz, carbonates and clay minerals such as kaolinite, palygorskite and chlorite in all of the samples. The predominant elements in the samples are Ca, Fe, Al, Si and Na and in some cases Ba, Sr and Zn. The correlation between soil and dust samples based on mineralogical composition, elemental enrichment factors, and physicochemical properties confirm that the playa surfaces are the major contributors to dust in the region. IN activity with onset temperatures ranging from 245 to 250 K demonstrates the high potential of dust blown from Urmia playa surfaces to affect cloud properties and precipitation. Freezing onset temperatures and the fraction of heterogeneously frozen droplets in the emulsions reveal variations in IN activity depending on the mineralogical composition of the samples, but also influenced by organic matter, salinity and pH. Specifically, IN activity correlates positively with organic matter and clay minerals, and negatively with pH and salinity, and, surprisingly, also negatively with K-feldspar and quartz content. The high wind erodibility and dust production of the LU playa surfaces together with their high IN activity can play an important role in the climate of the region and thus needs careful monitoring and specific attention.

Nikou Hamzehpour et al.

Status: open (until 26 Aug 2022)

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Nikou Hamzehpour et al.

Nikou Hamzehpour et al.


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Short summary
Playa surfaces in Iran that emerged through Lake Urmia (LU) desiccation have become a relevant dust source of regional relevance. Here, we identify highly erodible LU playa surfaces and determine their physicochemical properties, mineralogical composition, and perform emulsion-freezing experiments with them. We find high ice nucleation activities (up to 250 K) that correlate positively with organic matter and clay content, and negatively with pH, salinity, K-feldspars, and quartz.