The importance of crystalline phases in ice nucleation by volcanic ash

Maters, Elena C.; Dingwell, Donald B.; Cimarelli, Corrado; Müller, Dirk; Whale, Thomas F.; Murray, Benjamin J.

Volcanic ash is known to nucleate ice when immersed in supercooled water droplets. This process may impact the properties and dynamics of the eruption plume and cloud as well as those of meteorological clouds once the ash is dispersed in the atmosphere. However, knowledge of what controls the ice-nucleating activity (INA) of ash remains limited, although it has been suggested that crystalline components in ash may play an important role. Here we adopted a novel approach using nine pairs of tephra and their remelted and quenched glass equivalents to investigate the influence of chemical composition, crystallinity, and mineralogy on ash INA in the immersion mode. For all nine pairs studied, the crystal-bearing tephra nucleated ice at warmer temperatures than the corresponding crystal-free glass, indicating that crystalline phases are key to ash INA. Similar to findings for desert dust from arid and semi-arid regions, the presence of feldspar minerals characterizes the four most ice-active tephra samples, although a high INA is observed even in the absence of alkali feldspar in samples bearing plagioclase feldspar and orthopyroxene. There is evidence of a potential indirect relationship between chemical composition and ash INA, whereby a magma of felsic to intermediate composition may generate ash containing ice-active feldspar or pyroxene minerals. This complex interplay between chemical composition, crystallinity, and mineralogy could help to explain the variability in volcanic ash INA reported in the literature. Overall, by demonstrating the importance of crystalline phases in the INA of ash, our study contributes insights essential for better appraising the role of airborne ash in ice formation. Among these is the inference that glass-dominated ash emitted by the largest explosive volcanic eruptions might be less effective at impacting ice-nucleating particle populations than crystalline ash generated by smaller, more frequent eruptions.

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Maters, Elena C. / Dingwell, Donald B. / Cimarelli, Corrado / et al: The importance of crystalline phases in ice nucleation by volcanic ash. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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