Sources of nitrate in stratocumulus cloud water: Airborne measurements during the 2011 E-PEACE and 2013 NiCE studies

Gouri Prabhakar, B. Ervens, Z. Wang, L. C. Maudlin, M. M. Coggon, H. H. Jonsson, J. H. Seinfeld, A. Sorooshian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


This study examines the sources of NO3- in stratocumulus clouds over the eastern Pacific Ocean off the California coast using airborne and surface measurement data from the Eastern Pacific Emitted Aerosol Cloud Experiment (E-PEACE; 2011) and Nucleation in California Experiment (NiCE; 2013). Average NO3- air-equivalent concentrations in cloud water samples categorized as having been influenced by ship exhaust (2.5μgm-3), strong marine emissions (2.5μgm-3) and fires (2.0μgm-3) were more than twice that in the background cloud water (0.9μgm-3). During periods when biomass burning plumes resided above cloud top, 16 of 29 cloud water samples were impacted due to instability in the entrainment interface layer with NO3- levels reaching as high as 9.0μgm-3. Nucleation scavenging of chloride depleted sea-salt is a source of cloud water NO3-, with the lowest Cl-:Na+ ratio (1.5) observed in ship-influenced samples. Surface aerosol measurements show that NO3- concentrations peak in the particle diameter range of 1.0-5.6μm, similar to Na, Cl- and Si, suggesting that drop activation of crustal particles and sea salt could be an important source of NO3- in cloud water. The contrasting behavior of NO3- and SO42- is emphasized by the NO3-:SO42- mass concentration ratio which is highest in cloud water (by more than a factor of two) followed by above cloud aerosol, droplet residual particles, and below cloud aerosol. Trends of a decreasing NO3-:SO42- ratio with altitude in clouds are confirmed by parcel model studies due to the higher rate of in-cloud sulfate formation as compared to HNO3 uptake by droplets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)166-173
Number of pages8
JournalAtmospheric Environment
StatePublished - Nov 2014


  • Biomass burning
  • Chloride depletion
  • Cloud water
  • Marine
  • Sea-salt
  • Stratocumulus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Atmospheric Science


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