Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (Feb 2014)

Ice nucleation by fertile soil dusts: relative importance of mineral and biogenic components

  • D. O'Sullivan,
  • B. J. Murray,
  • T. L. Malkin,
  • T. F. Whale,
  • N. S. Umo,
  • J. D. Atkinson,
  • H. C. Price,
  • K. J. Baustian,
  • J. Browse,
  • M. E. Webb

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 14, no. 4
pp. 1853 – 1867


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Agricultural dust emissions have been estimated to contribute around 20% to the global dust burden. In contrast to dusts from arid source regions, the ice-nucleating abilities of which have been relatively well studied, soil dusts from fertile sources often contain a substantial fraction of organic matter. Using an experimental methodology which is sensitive to a wide range of ice nucleation efficiencies, we have characterised the immersion mode ice-nucleating activities of dusts (d −12 to 10−6 L (concentration = 0.02 to 0.1 wt% dust), we have been able to determine the ice nucleation behaviour of soil dust particles at temperatures ranging from 267 K (−6 °C) down to the homogeneous limit of freezing at about 237 K (−36 °C). At temperatures above 258 K (−15 °C) we find that the ice-nucleating activity of soil dusts is diminished by heat treatment or digestion with hydrogen peroxide, suggesting that a major fraction of the ice nuclei stems from biogenic components in the soil. However, below 258 K, we find that the ice active site densities tend towards those expected from the mineral components in the soils, suggesting that the inorganic fraction of soil dusts, in particular the K-feldspar fraction, becomes increasingly important in the initiation of the ice phase at lower temperatures. We conclude that dusts from agricultural activities could contribute significantly to atmospheric IN concentrations, if such dusts exhibit similar activities to those observed in the current laboratory study.