Researchers from the University of Leeds have helped throw fresh light on processes which may affect climate change.
The experts from the university worked with scientists from the CLOUD experiment at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva to study how tiny aerosol particles affect the atmosphere.
Substances called amines combine with sulphuric acid to form highly stable aerosol particles.
Amines are closely related to ammonia, and are largely derived from activities such as animal husbandry.
To conduct the experiment, the research team has had access to a special laboratory chamber with unprecedented cleanliness, allowing them to simulate the atmosphere and introduce minute amounts of various atmospheric vapours under carefully controlled conditions – in this case amines and sulphuric acid.
The results of the experiment, published in the journal Nature, are significant because aerosols cause a cooling effect by reflecting sunlight and by seeding cloud droplets.
Until now it has been difficult to precisely determine how much impact the aerosols had on the atmosphere and how they could affect the computer models used to make predictions.
The team has also shown that ionisation by cosmic rays is unimportant when it comes to generating these particular aerosol particles in the atmosphere. The effect of cosmic rays on climate is highly controversial topic and often cited by climate change sceptics.
Ken Carslaw, of the Institute for Climate at Atmospheric Science at the University of Leeds and lead author of the paper, said: “Leeds has been one of the steering members of the CERN CLOUD experiment for over a decade.
“This is an important discovery and will lead to a significant advance in our ability to understand how particles form in the atmosphere and how they affect climate.”