Observation of playa salts as nuclei in orographic wave clouds

Kerri A. Pratt, Cynthia H. Twohy, Shane M. Murphy, Ryan C. Moffet, Andrew J. Heymsfield, Cassandra J. Gaston, Paul J. Demott, Paul R. Field, Tobias R. Henn, David C. Rogers, Mary K. Gilles, John H. Seinfeld, Kimberly A. Prather

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


During the Ice in Clouds Experiment-Layer Clouds (ICE-L), dry lakebed, or playa, salts from the Great Basin region of the United States were observed as cloud nuclei in orographic wave clouds over Wyoming. Using a counterflow virtual impactor in series with a single-particle mass spectrometer, sodium-potassium-magnesium-calcium-chloride salts were identified as residues of cloud droplets. Importantly, these salts produced similar mass spectral signatures to playa salts with elevated cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) efficiencies close to sea salt. Using a suite of chemical characterization instrumentation, the playa salts were observed to be internally mixed with oxidized organics, presumably produced by cloud processing, as well as carbonate. These salt particles were enriched as residues of large droplets (>19 m) compared to smaller droplets (>7 m). In addition, a small fraction of silicate-containing playa salts were hypothesized to be important in the observed heterogeneous ice nucleation processes. While the high CCN activity of sea salt has been demonstrated to play an important role in cloud formation in marine environments, this study provides direct evidence of the importance of playa salts in cloud formation in continental North America has not been shown previously. Studies are needed to model and quantify the impact of playas on climate globally, particularly because of the abundance of playas and expected increases in the frequency and intensity of dust storms in the future due to climate and land use changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberD15301
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres
Issue number15
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Oceanography
  • Forestry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Palaeontology


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