What Determines the Ice Polymorph in Clouds?

A Hudait and V Molinero, JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY, 138, 8958-8967 (2016).

DOI: 10.1021/jacs.6b05227

Ice crystals in the atmosphere nucleate from supercooled liquid water and grow by vapor uptake. The structure of the ice polymorph grown has strong impact on the morphology and light scattering of the ice crystals, modulates the amount of water vapor in ice clouds, and can impact the molecular uptake and reactivity of atmospheric aerosols. Experiments and molecular simulations indicate that ice nucleated and grown from deeply supercooled liquid water is metastable stacking disordered ice. The ice polymorph grown from vapor has not yet been determined. Here we use large-scale molecular simulations to determine the structure of ice that grows as a result of uptake of water vapor in the temperature range relevant to cirrus and mixed-phase clouds, elucidate the molecular mechanism of the formation of ice at the vapor interface, and compute the free energy difference between cubic and hexagonal ice interfaces with vapor. We find that vapor deposition results in growth of stacking disordered ice only under conditions of extreme supersaturation, for which a nonequilibrium liquid layer completely wets the surface of ice. Such extreme conditions have been used to produce stacking disordered frost ice in experiments and may be plausible in the summer polar mesosphere. Growth of ice from vapor at moderate supersaturations in the temperature range relevant to cirrus and mixed phase clouds, from 200 to 260 K, produces exclusively the stable hexagonal ice polymorph. Cubic ice is disfavored with respect to hexagonal ice not only by a small penalty in the bulk free energy (3.6 +/- 1.5 J mol(-1) at 260 K) but also by a large free energy penalty at the ice-vapor interface (89.7 +/- 12.8 J mol(-1) at 260 K). The latter originates in higher vibrational entropy of the hexagonal-terminated ice-vapor interface. We predict that the free energy penalty against the cubic ice interface should decrease strongly with temperature, resulting in some degree of stacking disorder in ice grown from vapor in the tropical tropopause layer, and in polar stratospheric and noctilucent clouds. Our findings support and explain the evolution of the morphology of ice crystals from hexagonal to trigonal symmetry with decreasing temperature, as reported by experiments and in situ measurements in clouds. We conclude that selective growth of the elusive cubic ice polymorph by manipulation of the interfacial properties can likely be achieved at the ice-liquid interface but not at the ice-vapor interface.

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