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The importance of feldspar for ice nucleation by mineral dust in mixed-phase clouds

An Erratum to this article was published on 10 July 2013


The amount of ice present in mixed-phase clouds, which contain both supercooled liquid water droplets and ice particles, affects cloud extent, lifetime, particle size and radiative properties1,2. The freezing of cloud droplets can be catalysed by the presence of aerosol particles known as ice nuclei2. One of the most important ice nuclei is thought to be mineral dust aerosol from arid regions2,3. It is generally assumed that clay minerals, which contribute approximately two-thirds of the dust mass, dominate ice nucleation by mineral dust, and many experimental studies have therefore focused on these materials1,2,4,5,6. Here we use an established droplet-freezing technique4,7 to show that feldspar minerals dominate ice nucleation by mineral dusts under mixed-phase cloud conditions, despite feldspar being a minor component of dust emitted from arid regions. We also find that clay minerals are relatively unimportant ice nuclei. Our results from a global aerosol model study suggest that feldspar ice nuclei are globally distributed and that feldspar particles may account for a large proportion of the ice nuclei in Earth’s atmosphere that contribute to freezing at temperatures below about −15 °C.

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Figure 1: Experimental freezing results for the individual minerals.
Figure 2: Concentration of ice nuclei due to various minerals, for externally and internally mixed cases.
Figure 3: Nucleation site density for K-feldspar and natural dusts.
Figure 4: Dust aerosol modelling study results.


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We thank J. Cuadros, L. Neve and R. Finch for help sourcing mineral samples, P. DeMott for providing ice nuclei observational data, and T. W. Wilson for discussions. We acknowledge the European Research Council (FP7, 240449 ICE) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NE/I013466/1, NE/I020059/1, NE/I019057/1) for funding. K.S.C. is a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award holder.

Author information




J.D.A. conducted the picolitre experiments, analysed the data and wrote the paper, and T.F.W. performed and analysed the microlitre experiments. K.J.B. and D.O. contributed to the experimental study, and S.D. helped draft the manuscript. M.T.W. led the global modelling study in collaboration with K.S.C. T.L.M. did the X-ray analysis of the mineral samples. B.J.M. oversaw the project and helped to write the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Benjamin J. Murray.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Figures 1-9, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Tables 1-4, Supplementary Discussion and Supplementary References. Section 1 contains nine experimental and modelling figures. Section 2 expands on the experimental and modelling methodologies. Section 3 lists the mineralogy observational data used, the analysis of mineral samples and the field IN data. Section 4 is a discussion of the model outputs and their comparison with observations. (PDF 1780 kb)

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Atkinson, J., Murray, B., Woodhouse, M. et al. The importance of feldspar for ice nucleation by mineral dust in mixed-phase clouds. Nature 498, 355–358 (2013).

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