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Nature. 2015 Sep 10;525(7568):234-8. doi: 10.1038/nature14986.

A marine biogenic source of atmospheric ice-nucleating particles.

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School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK.
Department of Chemistry, University of Toronto, 80 St George Street, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3H6, Canada.
Institute for Terrestrial and Planetary Atmospheres, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York 11794-5000, USA.
School of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester CO4 3SQ, UK.
Atmospheric Science and Global Change Division, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, 902 Battelle Boulevard, Richland, Washington 99354, USA.
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Denver, Denver, Colorado 80208, USA.
School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York 11794-5000, USA.
Department of Chemistry, University of British Columbia, 2036 Main Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z1, Canada.
School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK.
Institute of Ocean Sciences, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Sidney, British Columbia V8L 4B2, Canada.
Air Quality Science Unit, Environment Canada, Vancouver, British Columbia V6C 3S5, Canada.
Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde, Department of Biological Oceanography, Seestraße 15, 18119 Rostock, Germany.


The amount of ice present in clouds can affect cloud lifetime, precipitation and radiative properties. The formation of ice in clouds is facilitated by the presence of airborne ice-nucleating particles. Sea spray is one of the major global sources of atmospheric particles, but it is unclear to what extent these particles are capable of nucleating ice. Sea-spray aerosol contains large amounts of organic material that is ejected into the atmosphere during bubble bursting at the organically enriched sea-air interface or sea surface microlayer. Here we show that organic material in the sea surface microlayer nucleates ice under conditions relevant for mixed-phase cloud and high-altitude ice cloud formation. The ice-nucleating material is probably biogenic and less than approximately 0.2 micrometres in size. We find that exudates separated from cells of the marine diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana nucleate ice, and propose that organic material associated with phytoplankton cell exudates is a likely candidate for the observed ice-nucleating ability of the microlayer samples. Global model simulations of marine organic aerosol, in combination with our measurements, suggest that marine organic material may be an important source of ice-nucleating particles in remote marine environments such as the Southern Ocean, North Pacific Ocean and North Atlantic Ocean.

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