Surface tension effects of humic-like substances in the aqueous extract of tropospheric fine aerosol

Gyula Kiss, Etelka Tombácz, Hans Christen Hansson

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Organic aerosol constituents can influence the surface tension of nucleating cloud droplets and thereby modify the critical supersaturation necessary to activate aerosol particles. Model calculations, based on experiments carried out with different surrogates, led to contradictory conclusions on the effect of organic components on activation, indicating that the results depend very much on the surrogate selected. In order to reduce this uncertainty surface tension measurements were performed on real atmospheric aerosol components. Humic-like substances (HULIS) that accounted for 60% of the water-soluble organic carbon present in rural aerosol were isolated from 32 samples covering different seasons. The isolated organic matter present in a concentration of about 1 g L-1, decreased the surface tension of the aqueous solutions by 25-42% as compared to pure water. This effect was further enhanced when humic-like substances were mixed with ammonium sulphate. In order to support model calculations Szyskowski functions were fitted to the data to formulate the surface tension effect as a function of concentration. Finally, natural humic substances (fulvic and humic acids) were investigated under the same conditions. The experiments revealed that the surface tension decreasing effect of atmospheric humic-like substances differed from that of the studied terrestrial and aquatic humic substances: the latter substances decreased the surface tension of the aqueous solution to a lesser extent (7-23%) than atmospheric HULIS. This deviation can be explained with the different composition (e.g. the ratio of aromatic to aliphatic moieties) of the substances investigated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-294
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Atmospheric Chemistry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2005



  • Atmospheric aerosol
  • Cloud formation
  • Humic-like substances
  • Kelvin effect
  • Surface tension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Atmospheric Science

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