The acidity of atmospheric particles and clouds

Havala O. T. Pye, Athanasios Nenes, Becky Alexander, Andrew P. Ault, Mary C. Barth, Simon L. Clegg, Jeffrey L. Collett Jr., Kathleen M. Fahey, Christopher J. Hennigan, Hartmut Herrmann, Maria Kanakidou, James T. Kelly, I-Ting Ku, V. Faye McNeill, Nicole Riemer, Thomas Schaefer, Guoliang Shi, Andreas Tilgner, John T. Walker, Tao WangRodney Weber, Jia Xing, Rahul A. Zaveri, Andreas Zuend

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352 Citations (Scopus)


Acidity, defined as pH, is a central component of aqueous chemistry. In the atmosphere, the acidity of condensed phases (aerosol particles, cloud water, and fog droplets) governs the phase partitioning of semivolatile gases such as HNO3, NH3, HCl, and organic acids and bases as well as chemical reaction rates. It has implications for the atmospheric lifetime of pollutants, deposition, and human health. Despite its fundamental role in atmospheric processes, only recently has this field seen a growth in the number of studies on particle acidity. Even with this growth, many fine-particle pH estimates must be based on thermodynamic model calculations since no operational techniques exist for direct measurements. Current information indicates acidic fine particles are ubiquitous, but observationally constrained pH estimates are limited in spatial and temporal coverage. Clouds and fogs are also generally acidic, but to a lesser degree than particles, and have a range of pH that is quite sensitive to anthropogenic emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides, as well as ambient ammonia. Historical measurements indicate that cloud and fog droplet pH has changed in recent decades in response to controls on anthropogenic emissions, while the limited trend data for aerosol particles indicate acidity may be relatively constant due to the semivolatile nature of the key acids and bases and buffering in particles. This paper reviews and synthesizes the current state of knowledge on the acidity of atmospheric condensed phases, specifically particles and cloud droplets. It includes recommendations for estimating acidity and pH, standard nomenclature, a synthesis of current pH estimates based on observations, and new model calculations on the local and global scale.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4809-4888
Number of pages80
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2020

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