Observations of biogenic ion-induced cluster formation in the atmosphere

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Science Advances  25 Apr 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 4, eaar5218
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aar5218

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A substantial fraction of aerosols, which affect air quality and climate, is formed from gaseous precursors. Highly oxygenated organic molecules (HOMs) are essential to grow the newly formed particles and have been evidenced to initiate ion-induced nucleation in chamber experiments in the absence of sulfuric acid. We investigate this phenomenon in the real atmosphere using an extensive set of state-of-the-art ion and mass spectrometers deployed in a boreal forest environment. We show that within a few hours around sunset, HOMs resulting from the oxidation of monoterpenes are capable of forming and growing ion clusters even under low sulfuric acid levels. In these conditions, we hypothesize that the lack of photochemistry and essential vapors prevents the organic clusters from growing past 6 nm. However, this phenomenon might have been a major source of particles in the preindustrial atmosphere and might also contribute to particle formation in the future and consequently affect the climate.

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