Report

Enhanced Role of Transition Metal Ion Catalysis During In-Cloud Oxidation of SO2

Science  10 May 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6133, pp. 727-730
DOI: 10.1126/science.1230911

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Dust in the Clouds

Sulfate aerosols have the greatest radiative impact on climate systems. Harris et al. (p. 727) report that the oxidation of sulfur dioxide gas, catalyzed by natural transition metal ions mostly on the surface of coarse mineral dust, is the dominant pathway for sulfate production in clouds. In view of the growing sulfur dioxide emissions from large, industrializing countries, including this process in climate models should improve the agreement between models and observations.

Abstract

Global sulfate production plays a key role in aerosol radiative forcing; more than half of this production occurs in clouds. We found that sulfur dioxide oxidation catalyzed by natural transition metal ions is the dominant in-cloud oxidation pathway. The pathway was observed to occur primarily on coarse mineral dust, so the sulfate produced will have a short lifetime and little direct or indirect climatic effect. Taking this into account will lead to large changes in estimates of the magnitude and spatial distribution of aerosol forcing. Therefore, this oxidation pathway—which is currently included in only one of the 12 major global climate models—will have a significant impact on assessments of current and future climate.

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