The discovery contrasts with the prevailing view that clay minerals were the most important component of atmospheric mineral dust for ice formation in mixed-phase clouds, the research published Wednesday in Nature indicated.
The amount of ice in clouds affects cloud extent, life span and energy-sending properties, which can influence climate.
Clay minerals contribute about two-thirds of the dust mass, while feldspars account for only about 3 percent, Benjamin Murray of the University of Leeds in Britain, and his co-authors said.
Despite its relatively small presence, researchers demonstrated feldspar minerals dominate ice nucleation in clouds with a mixture of water droplets and ice particles. Nucleation is the process by which ice crystals and raindrops form in clouds around a solid core.
The research also showed that feldspar particles, at certain temperatures, may account for a large proportion of the ice nuclei in Earth's atmosphere.
Desert dust is considered a key source of ice nuclei, particles that enable ice to form above a cloud's normal freezing threshold.
Thomas Koop of Bielefeld University in Germany and Natalie Mahowald of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., also participated in the research.