Glacially sourced dust as a potentially significant source of ice nucleating particles


Aeolian dusts serve as ice nucleating particles in mixed-phase clouds, and thereby alter the cloud properties and lifetime. Glacial outwash plains are thought to be a major dust source in cold, high latitudes. Due to the recent rapid and widespread retreat of glaciers, high-latitude dust emissions are projected to increase, especially in the Arctic region, which is highly sensitive to climate change. However, the potential contribution of high-latitude dusts to ice nucleation in Arctic low-level clouds is not well acknowledged. Here we show that glacial outwash sediments in Svalbard (a proxy for glacially sourced dusts) have a remarkably high ice nucleating ability under conditions relevant for mixed-phase cloud formation, as compared with typical mineral dusts. The high ice nucleating ability of the sediments is probably governed by the presence of small amounts of organic matter (<1 wt% organic carbon) rather than mineral components. In addition, our results from intensive field measurements and model simulations indicate that the concentrations of atmospheric ice nucleating particles over the Svalbard region are expected to be enhanced in the summertime under the influence of dust emissions from Svalbard and its surroundings. We suggest that high-latitude dust sources have the potential to significantly influence glaciation of Arctic low-level clouds.

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Fig. 1: Characteristics of glacial outwash sediments obtained in Svalbard.
Fig. 2: Summary of intensive field measurements at the Zeppelin Observatory.
Fig. 3: Air mass characteristics and chemical composition of ambient aerosol particles during the intensive measurement campaign at the Zeppelin Observatory in July 2016.
Fig. 4: Possible influence of dust emissions on the INP population over Svalbard.
Fig. 5: Modelled distributions of dusts in high latitudes (≥60° N) associated with dust emissions from high-latitude sources in July 2016.

Data availability

The INP data used in Figs 1, 2 and 4 (the nm values for the glacial outwash sediments obtained near the glacier Brøggerbreen and the NINP values measured at the Zeppelin Observatory) are available from the Arctic Data archive System (ADS) at Other data that support the finding of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.


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We thank M. Uchida, M. Shiobara, O. Hermansen and the staff of the Norwegian Polar Institute for their assistance with the measurements; N. Furukawa and N. Takeuchi for their assistance with the X-ray diffraction analysis at Chiba University; F. Taketani, T. Miyakawa and Y. Kanaya for the collection of INP data over the Chukchi Sea. This work was partly supported by JSPS KAKENHI (15K13570, 15K16120, 16H06020, 16J08380, 16K16188 and 18H04143), the ArCS Project, and the Environment Research and Technology Development Fund (2-1703) of the Environmental Restoration and Conservation Agency. P.J.D. and T.C.J.H. acknowledge support from NSF (AGS-1358495). N.M.M. and D.S.H. acknowledge support from DOE SciDAC (DE-SC0006791) and Cornell University’s David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. The production of this paper was supported by a NIPR publication subsidy.

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Y.T. and M.K. conceived the project. Y.T. and J.U. performed the fieldwork and Y.T., K.A. and N.N. performed laboratory analyses. D.S.H. and N.M.M. contributed dust model simulations. S.O. and Y.K. acquired black carbon data. P.J.D., T.C.J.H. and Y.K. supported analyses and data interpretation. Y.T. wrote the paper with contributions and edits from P.J.D. and T.C.J.H. All the authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Yutaka Tobo.

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Supplementary Description, Supplementary Figures 1–5 and Tables 1–3

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Tobo, Y., Adachi, K., DeMott, P.J. et al. Glacially sourced dust as a potentially significant source of ice nucleating particles. Nat. Geosci. 12, 253–258 (2019).

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