Evidence That Nitric Acid Increases Relative Humidity in Low-Temperature Cirrus Clouds

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Science  23 Jan 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5657, pp. 516-520
DOI: 10.1126/science.1091255

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In situ measurements of the relative humidity with respect to ice (RHi) and of nitric acid (HNO3) were made in both natural and contrail cirrus clouds in the upper troposphere. At temperatures lower than 202 kelvin, RHi values show a sharp increase to average values of over 130% in both cloud types. These enhanced RHi values are attributed to the presence of a new class of HNO3-containing ice particles (Δ-ice). We propose that surface HNO3 molecules prevent the ice/vapor system from reaching equilibrium by a mechanism similar to that of freezing point depression by antifreeze proteins. Δ-ice represents a new link between global climate and natural and anthropogenic nitrogen oxide emissions. Including Δ-ice in climate models will alter simulated cirrus properties and the distribution of upper tropospheric water vapor.

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