Research Articles

Physical Chemistry of the H2SO4/HNO3/H2O System: Implications for Polar Stratospheric Clouds

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Science  10 Sep 1993:
Vol. 261, Issue 5127, pp. 1418-1423
DOI: 10.1126/science.261.5127.1418


Polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) play a key role in stratospheric ozone depletion. Surface-catalyzed reactions on PSC particles generate chlorine compounds that photolyze readily to yield chlorine radicals, which in turn destroy ozone very efficiently. The most prevalent PSCs form at temperatures several degrees above the ice frost point and are believed to consist of HNO3 hydrates; however, their formation mechanism is unclear. Results of laboratory experiments are presented which indicate that the background stratospheric H2SO4/H2O aerosols provide an essential link in this mechanism: These liquid aerosols absorb significant amounts of HNO3 vapor, leading most likely to the crystallization of nitric acid trihydrate (NAT). The frozen particles then grow to form PSCs by condensation of additional amounts of HNO3 and H2O vapor. Furthermore, reaction probability measurements reveal that the chlorine radical precursors are formed readily at polar stratospheric temperatures not just on NAT and ice crystals, but also on liquid H2SO4 solutions and on solid H2SO4 hydrates. These results imply that the chlorine activation efficiency of the aerosol particles increases rapidly as the temperature approaches the ice frost point regardless of the phase or composition of the particles.

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