North Pole could see more clouds as a new chemical compound infiltrates its skies

Wikipedia

  • Iodic acid, a chemical compound that acts as an astringent, is influencing the formation of new aerosols at the North Pole between late summer and early fall.
  • Interestingly, according to the researchers, iodic acid had not been seen in the region before this.
  • These findings are significant in studying the role of biogeochemical processes for cloud formation over the Arctic pack ice and potentially also for Arctic warming.
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Clouds have a huge bearing on the climate in the far reaches of the Arctic. In order for clouds to form, they need aerosol particles — even a small change in the concentration of these particles can have a major impact.

While researchers are still working on figuring out what the end impact is, a new chemical compound called iodic acid has been spotted mixing in with the cloud-creating aerosols in the skies above the high Arctic.

It’s already influencing the formation of new aerosols at the North Pole between late summer and early fall, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.

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"There is less ice in the Arctic at the end of the summer, a lot of open water and the concentration of iodic acid is very low at that point. Towards the end of August, the temperature drops and the water starts refreezing, marking the beginning of the so-called freeze-up period. This is when the iodic acid concentration sharply increases leading to frequent new aerosol particle formation events,'' Julia Schmale, one of the authors of the study.

As of now, the Arctic is warming up three times the speed of rest of the planet. And, there plenty of factors at play. But one thing Schamle claims to know for sure is that clouds are significant as they cover the planet in a blanket, either letting the Earth cool off or warm-up.

Tracking down how clouds are made on the North Pole

If the aerosols grow even just a small amount larger, they can function as cloud condensation nuclei, which are essential for cloud formation.

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"One of our objectives was to investigate how new aerosol particles could form in the Arctic atmosphere," says Andrea Baccarini, a co-author of the study.

"Under the right conditions, gas molecules condense together into small clusters that can grow, eventually forming aerosols," she explained.

In the Arctic summer and fall, the concentration of aerosols is extremely low. "The contribution of newly formed aerosols can be extremely important and even a small change in aerosol concentration in the high Arctic could have a major impact on cloud formation or alter clouds' radiative properties," said Baccarini.

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It is also still not clear how important local aerosol processes are to cloud formation in comparison to regional or long-range transport, for example. "With this expedition, we could investigate the exact sources of aerosol particles that are needed to form clouds" added Paul Zieger, the lead researcher on the project exploring aerosol-cloud processes of the 2018 expedition.

These findings are significant in studying the role of biogeochemical processes for cloud formation over the Arctic pack ice and potentially also for Arctic warming.

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