Current Issue

Volume 546 Number 7660 pp575-696

29 June 2017

About the cover

Droplets form in atmospheric clouds through heterogeneous nucleation on aerosol particles that act as cloud condensation nuclei. Spontaneous activation of these nuclei depends on the interplay between two factors: the Raoult effect and the Kelvin effect. In the Raoult effect, activation potential increases as solute concentration rises or as water activation decreases. In the Kelvin effect, activation potential decreases as droplet size shrinks, and increases as surface tension is lowered. It is generally thought that any lowering of particle surface tension induced by organic molecules would be cancelled out by a simultaneous reduction in the Raoult effect with little overall effect on cloud-droplet activation. However, in this issue, Colin O’Dowd and his colleagues show that in the atmosphere, surfactant molecules can lower surface tension in such a way that its effect on water uptake prevails over any changes in the Raoult effect, leading to a large increase in the concentration of cloud droplets. The authors suggest that this should have implications for the representation of cloud formation processes in climate models. Cover image: michaeldunlap.net

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