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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Airborne soil organic particles generated by precipitation

  • Author(s): Wang, B;
  • Harder, TH;
  • Kelly, ST;
  • Piens, DS;
  • China, S;
  • Kovarik, L;
  • Keiluweit, M;
  • Arey, BW;
  • Gilles, MK;
  • Laskin, A
  • et al.

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Airborne organic particles play a critical role in Earth's climate, public health, air quality, and hydrological and carbon cycles. However, sources and formation mechanisms for semi-solid and solid organic particles are poorly understood and typically neglected in atmospheric models. Laboratory evidence suggests that fine particles can be formed from impaction of mineral surfaces by droplets. Here, we use chemical imaging of particles collected following rain events in the Southern Great Plains, Oklahoma, USA and after experimental irrigation to show that raindrop impaction of soils generates solid organic particles. We find that after rain events, sub-micrometre solid particles, with a chemical composition consistent with soil organic matter, contributed up to 60% of atmospheric particles. Our irrigation experiments indicate that intensive water impaction is sufficient to cause ejection of airborne soil organic particles from the soil surface. Chemical imaging and micro-spectroscopy analysis of particle physico-chemical properties suggest that these particles may have important impacts on cloud formation and efficiently absorb solar radiation. We suggest that raindrop-induced formation of solid organic particles from soils may be a widespread phenomenon in ecosystems such as agricultural systems and grasslands where soils are exposed to strong, episodic precipitation events.

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