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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-2019-650
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-2019-650
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 04 Sep 2019

Submitted as: research article | 04 Sep 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).

Electrostatic forces alter particle size distributions in atmospheric dust

Joseph R. Toth III1,*, Siddharth Rajupet1,*, Henry Squire1, Blaire Volbers1, Jùn Zhou2,3, Li Xie2,3, R. Mohan Sankaran1, and Dan J. Lacks1 Joseph R. Toth III et al.
  • 1Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106
  • 2Key Laboratory of Mechanics on Disaster and Environment in Western China, Ministry of Education of China, Lanzhou, Gansu, 7300000, China
  • 3College of Civil Engineering and Mechanics, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou, Gansu, 7300000, China
  • *These authors contributed equally to this work.

Abstract. Large amounts of dust are lofted into the atmosphere from arid regions of the world before being transported up to thousands of kilometers. This atmospheric dust interacts with solar radiation causing changes in the climate, with larger-sized particles having a heating effect, and smaller-sized particles having a cooling effect. Previous studies on the long-range transport of dust have found larger particles than expected, without a model to explain their transport. Here, we investigate the effect of electric fields on lofted airborne dust by blowing sand through a vertically-oriented electric field, and characterizing the size distribution as a function of height. We also model this system, considering the gravitational, drag, and electrostatic forces on particles, to understand the effects of the electric field. Our results indicate that electric fields keep particles suspended at higher elevations and enrich the concentration of larger particles at higher elevations. We extend our model from the small-scale system to long-range atmospheric dust transport to develop insights on the effects of electric fields on size distributions of lofted dust in the atmosphere. We show that the presence of electric fields and the resulting electrostatic force on particles can help explain the transport of unexpectedly larger particles and cause the size distribution to become more uniform as a function of elevation. Thus, our experimental and modelling results indicate that electrostatic forces should be considered when determining the effect of atmospheric dust on the climate.

Joseph R. Toth III et al.
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Short summary
Dust is lofted into the atmosphere before traveling up to thousands of kilometers and interacting with solar radiation. Previous studies on the movement of dust have found larger particles than expected. We use experiments and modeling to investigate how electric fields can affect the movement of dust. Our results indicate that electric fields suspend particles at higher elevations and increase the concentration of larger particles at higher elevations.
Dust is lofted into the atmosphere before traveling up to thousands of kilometers and...
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