Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Effect of relative humidity on light scattering by mineral dust aerosol as measured in the marine boundary layer over the tropical Atlantic Ocean


  • X. Li-Jones,

  • H. B. Maring,

  • J. M. Prospero


Using an integrating nephelometer, we measured aerosol light scattering during a month-long experiment conducted in April 1994 on Barbados, West Indies (13.17°N, 59.43°W). Concurrent measurements of aerosol composition showed that the trade wind aerosol mass was alternatively dominated by sea salt and by mineral dust transported from North Africa. Dust concentrations ranged from 0.9 to 257 μg m−3, and sea salt ranged from 9.4 to 29 μg m−3. Nonsea-salt sulfate (nss SO4=) was generally a minor component with concentrations ranging from 0.5 to 4.2 μg m−3. We obtained hygroscopic growth factors (HGF) by calculating the ratio of the aerosol scattering coefficient (ASC) measured at ambient relative humidity (RH), which ranged from 67% to 83%, to the ASC measured with the sample air stream heated so as to reduce the RH to under 40%. Over the course of the experiment, HGF ranged from 1.13 to 1.69, with lower values corresponding to high dust concentration periods. By a variety of procedures, including the chemical apportioning of ASC, we derived the HGF for mineral dust; depending on the technique used, values ranged from 1.0 to 1.1. In contrast, we obtain for sea salt an HGF of 1.8±0.2, a value consistent with previously reported measurements. The low HGF values obtained for dusty periods suggest that only minor amounts of hygroscopic materials are associated with dust. Consequently, the radiative properties of North African dust in the atmosphere will be relatively insensitive to RH changes.