Feldspar minerals key in generating ice formation in certain clouds

June 12, 2013 at 6:03 PM
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LEEDS, England, June 12 (UPI) -- A small amount of feldspar minerals in certain clouds pack a wallop when generating ice formations, British, German and U.S. researchers say.

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.

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