Thomas Hede
Department of Meteorology, Stockholm University, Sweden

Beyond Köhler theory: Molecular dynamics simulations as a tool for atmospheric science

Time and place
Fri 8 Feb 2013, 10.00
Nordenskiöldsalen, Geovetenskapens Hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 12

(This event has taken place)



In this thesis, the results from molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of nanoaerosol clusters are discussed. The connecting link of these studies is the Köhler theory, which is the theory of condensational growth and activation of cloud droplets to form clouds. By investigating parameters such as the surface tension, state of mixture and morphology of nanoaerosol particles, conclusions can be drawn to improve the Köhler theory to include the effects of organic compounds previously unaccounted for.

For the terrestrial environment, the simulations show that the natural surfactant cis-pinonic acid, an oxidation product evaporated from boreal trees, spontaneously accumulates at the surface of nanoaerosol clusters and thereby reduces the surface tension. The surface tension depression is related to the concentration of the surfactant and the size of the clusters. Surface tension is an important parameter of the Köhler theory. A decrease of the surface tension can lower the critical water vapour supersaturation needed for cloud droplet activation, giving rise to more, but smaller cloud droplets (Twomey effect) which in turn could change the optical properties of the cloud. It was also shown that the three organic surfactants, being model compounds for so called Humic-like substances (HULIS) have the ability to form aggregates inside the nanoaerosol clusters. These HULIS aggregates can also promote the solubilization of hydrophobic organic carbon in the form of fluoranthene, enabling soot taking part in cloud drop formation.

Dissolved intermediately surface-active free amino acids were shown to be of some relevance for cloud formation over remote marine areas. The MD simulations showed differences between the interacting forces for spherical and planar interfaces of amino acids solutions.

This thesis has emphasized the surface-active properties of organic compounds, including model HULIS and amino acids and their effect on surface tension and molecular orientation including aggregate formation in nanoaerosol clusters and their activation to form droplets. This thesis shows that the Köhler equation does not fully satisfactory describe the condensational growth of nano-sized droplets containing organic surfactants. Different approaches are suggested as revisions of the Köhler theory.