In the central Arctic, the coldest winter nights are the clearest, when heat from Earth can escape into space unimpeded. Under a cozy blanket of clouds, though, long-wave radiation gets trapped and contributes to warming, so any process that leads to increased cloud formation and lingering cloudiness also boosts surface temperatures. Small aerosol particles, including those fine sea salt aerosols produced by blowing snow that Wang’s team discovered, turn out to be very good for cloud formation.

We found sea salt particles that were much smaller and in higher concentration than expected when there was blowing snow under strong wind conditions

Jian Wang

Atmospheric scientists led by Jian Wang, director of the Center for Aerosol Science and Engineering and a professor of energy, environmental and chemical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, investigated the production and impact of sea salt aerosols on Arctic warming. Their results, published Sept. 4 in Nature Geoscience, revealed abundant fine sea salt aerosol production from blowing snow in the central Arctic, increasing particle concentration and cloud formation.