Variability in morphology, hygroscopicity, and optical properties of soot aerosols during atmospheric processing

Renyi Zhang, Alexei F. Khalizov, Joakim Pagels, Dan Zhang, Huaxin Xue, Peter H. McMurry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

642 Scopus citations


The atmospheric effects of soot aerosols include interference with radiative transfer, visibility impairment, and alteration of cloud formation and are highly sensitive to the manner by which soot is internally mixed with other aerosol constituents. We present experimental studies to show that soot particles acquire a large mass fraction of sulfuric acid during atmospheric aging, considerably altering their properties. Soot particles exposed to subsaturated sulfuric acid vapor exhibit a marked change in morphology, characterized by a decreased mobility-based diameter but an increased fractal dimension and effective density. These particles experience large hygroscopic size and mass growth at subsaturated conditions (<90% relative humidity) and act efficiently as cloud-condensation nuclei. Coating with sulfuric acid and subsequent hygroscopic growth enhance the optical properties of soot aerosols, increasing scattering by ≈10-fold and absorption by nearly 2-fold at 80% relative humidity relative to fresh particles. In addition, condensation of sulfuric acid is shown to occur at a similar rate on ambient aerosols of various types of a given mobility size, regardless of their chemical compositions and microphysical structures. Representing an important mechanism of atmospheric aging, internal mixing of soot with sulfuric acid has profound implications on visibility, human health, and direct and indirect climate forcing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10291-10296
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number30
StatePublished - Jul 29 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Anthropogenic pollution
  • Climate
  • Clouds
  • Human health
  • Radiative properties


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