Influence of soluble surfactant properties on the activation of aerosol particles containing inorganic solute

Zhidong Li, Allen L. Williams, Mark J. Rood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Atmospheric aerosol particles consisting of ammonium sulfate [(NH4)2SO4] or sodium chloride (NaCl) have reasonably well-defined hygroscopic properties compared to other materials in aerosol particles, such as organic material. The effect of internally mixing organic compounds with these salts is not clear when considering the hygroscopic properties of the resulting particles, including activation of particles in clouds. This research describes the activation of aerosol particles consisting of sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) and NaCl solute. SDS is used as a surrogate for soluble atmospheric surfactants. Köhler theory is used to model droplet activation while considering droplet properties such as surface tension (σ), surface excess surfactant concentration, and critical micelle concentration (CMC). Reduction in critical supersaturation (Sc) caused by the reduction in σ (Kelvin effect) associated with the surfactant is dominated by the increase in Sc with the decreasing number of moles of solute in the droplet (Raoult effect) as surfactant displaces NaCl solute mass. For an initially dry 0.1-μm diameter particle, Sc increases from 0.10 to 0.25 as NaCl solute mass changes from 100% (0% SDS solute) to 0% (100% SDS solute). Such dependence of cloud droplet activation on mixed solute composition is important when considering atmospheric chemistry and physics. The partitioning of materials between aerosol particles and cloud drops are influenced by mixing the surfactant with NaCl. Also, inhibition of droplet activation when displacing NaCl solute with a high molecular weight soluble surfactant could significantly influence the indirect effects aerosols have on climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1859-1866
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 15 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science

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