Interactions of mineral dust with pollution and clouds: An individual-particle TEM study of atmospheric aerosol from Saudi Arabia

Mihály Pósfai, Duncan Axisa, Éva Tompa, Evelyn Freney, Roelof Bruintjes, P R Buseck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Aerosol particles from desert dust interact with clouds and influence climate on regional and global scales. The Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) aerosol campaign was initiated to study the effects of dust particles on cloud droplet nucleation and cloud properties. Here we report the results of individual-particle studies of samples that were collected from an aircraft in April 2007. We used analytical transmission electron microscopy, including energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometry, electron diffraction, and imaging techniques for the morphological, chemical, and structural characterization of the particles.Dust storms and regional background conditions were encountered during four days of sampling. Under dusty conditions, the coarse (supermicrometer) fraction resembles freshly crushed rock. The particles are almost exclusively mineral dust grains and include common rock-forming minerals, among which clay minerals, particularly smectites, are most abundant. Unaltered calcite grains also occur, indicating no significant atmospheric processing. The particles have no visible coatings but some contain traces of sulfur. The fine (submicrometer) fraction is dominated by particles of anthropogenic origin, primarily ammonium sulfate (with variable organic coating and some with soot inclusions) and combustion-derived particles (mostly soot). In addition, submicrometer, iron-bearing clay particles also occur, many of which are internally mixed with ammonium sulfate, soot, or both. We studied the relationships between the properties of the aerosol and the droplet microphysics of cumulus clouds that formed above the aerosol layer. Under dusty conditions, when a large concentration of coarse-fraction mineral particles was in the aerosol, cloud drop concentrations were lower and droplet diameters larger than under regional background conditions, when the aerosol was dominated by submicrometer sulfate particles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)347-361
Number of pages15
JournalAtmospheric Research
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • Cloud microphysics
  • Desert dust
  • Individual aerosol particles
  • Smectite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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