Contribution of pollen to atmospheric ice nuclei concentrations

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Wednesday, 5 February 2014
Hall C3 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
John Hader, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC; and M. D. Petters and T. Wright

Primary biological aerosol particles (PBAP) contribute to the concentrations of ice nuclei (IN) in the atmosphere. Laboratory studies have shown that pollen grains, a subset of PBAP, can serve as immersion mode ice nuclei at temperatures ranging from -9 to -25 deg C. At the peak of the pollen season pollen concentrations can reach surface-level concentrations exceeding 1 per liter of air. Furthermore, previous studies have suggested that the ice nucleating ability of some types of pollen is derived from non-proteinaceous macromolecules, which may become dispersed by the rupturing of the pollen sac during wetting and drying cycles. If true, this mechanism is expected to produce highly elevated IN concentrations at temperatures warmer than -25 deg C. Here we test this hypothesis by measuring ambient IN concentrations from the beginning to the end of the 2013 pollen season in Raleigh, North Carolina. Raleigh is surrounded by a dense mixed hardwood forest composed primarily of oak, hickory, and pine species. Air samples were collected using a swirling aerosol collector twice per week and the solution was analyzed for ice nuclei activity using a droplet freezing assay setup. Rainwater samples were collected during rain events at the peak of the pollen season and analyzed with the drop freezing assay to compare the potentially enhanced IN concentrations measured near the ground with IN concentrations found aloft. A new statistical method is introduced to infer ambient ice nuclei spectra, defined as number of ice nuclei per volume of air as a function of temperature, from the aerosol collector solutions. Results show that IN concentrations for nuclei that require minimal supercooling were enhanced for one sample. However, no general trend was observed between ambient pollen counts and observed IN concentrations, suggesting that ice nuclei multiplication via pollen sac rupturing and subsequent release of macromolecules was not prevalent for the pollen types and meteorological conditions typically encountered in the Southeastern U.S.