Cloud Activation Potentials for Atmospheric α-Pinene and β-Caryophyllene Ozonolysis Products

Ariana Gray Bé, Mary Alice Upshur, Pengfei Liu, Scot T. Martin, Franz M. Geiger*, Regan J. Thomson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The formation of atmospheric cloud droplets due to secondary organic aerosol (SOA) particles is important for quantifying the Earth's radiative balance under future, possibly warmer, climates, yet is only poorly understood. While cloud activation may be parametrized using the surface tension depression that coincides with surfactant partitioning to the gas-droplet interface, the extent to which cloud activation is influenced by both the chemical structure and reactivity of the individual molecules comprising this surfactant pool is largely unknown. We report herein considerable differences in the surface tension depression of aqueous pendant droplets that contain synthetically prepared ozonolysis products derived from α-pinene and β-caryophyllene, the most abundant of the monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes, respectively, that are emitted over the planet's vast forest ecosystems. Oxidation products derived from β-caryophyllene were found to exhibit significantly higher surface activity than those prepared from α-pinene, with the critical supersaturation required for cloud droplet activation reduced by 50% for β-caryophyllene aldehyde at 1 mM. These considerable reductions in the critical supersaturation were found to coincide with free energies of adsorption that exceed ∼25 kJ/mol, or just one hydrogen bond equivalent, depending on the ammonium sulfate and oxidation product concentration in the solution. Additional experiments showed that aldehyde-containing oxidation products exist in equilibrium with hydrated forms in aqueous solution, which may modulate their bulk solubility and surface activity. Equilibration time scales on the order of 10-5 to 10-4 s calculated for micrometer-sized aerosol particles indicate instantaneous surface tension depression in the activation processes leading to cloud formation in the atmosphere. Our findings highlight the underlying importance of molecular structure and reactivity when considering cloud condensation activity in the presence of SOA particles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)715-725
Number of pages11
JournalACS Central Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 26 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)


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