The CLOUD experiment at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) reports a major advance towards solving a long-standing enigma in climate science: how do aerosols - tiny solid or liquid particles suspended in the air - form in the atmosphere, and which gases are responsible. This is a key question in understanding the climate, since aerosols cause a cooling effect by reflecting sunlight and by seeding cloud droplets.
The CLOUD experiment’s unique ultra-clean chamber allowed the researchers to demonstrate that the extremely low concentrations of amines typically found in the atmosphere - a few parts per trillion by volume - are sufficient to combine with sulfuric acid to form highly stable aerosol particles at high rates.
The measured sensitivity of aerosol formation to amines came as a surprise, and points to a potentially significant climate cooling mechanism. Moreover, since amine scrubbing is likely to become an important technology for capturing carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuelled power plants, this effect is likely to rise in future.
The PTR-TOF-MS technology used to monitoring the CLOUD aerosol-chamber by Prof. Armin Hansel and his team, was developed at the Institute for Ion Physics and Applied Physics of the University of Innsbruck in collaboration with IONICON Analytik being the world’s leading manufacturer of PTR-MS instruments.