Click on page icon to view abstract.
The indirect effect of aerosols on climate through aerosol-cloud-interactions is still highly uncertain and limits our ability to assess anthropogenic climate change. The foundation of this uncertainty is in the number of cloud condensation nuclei (CCN), which itself mainly stems from uncertainty in aerosol sources and how particles evolve to become effective CCN. We analyze particle number size distribution (PNSD) and CCN measurements from an urban site in a two-step method: (1) we use an unsupervised clustering model to classify the main aerosol categories and processes occurring in the urban atmosphere and (2) we explore the influence of the identified aerosol populations on the CCN properties. According to the physical properties of each cluster, its diurnal timing, and additional air quality parameters, the clusters are grouped into five main aerosol categories: nucleation, growth, traffic, aged traffic, and urban background. The results show that, despite aged traffic and urban background categories are those with lower total particle number concentrations (Ntot) these categories are the most efficient sources in terms of contribution to the overall CCN budget with activation fractions (AF) around 0.5 at 0.75 % supersaturation (SS). By contrast, road traffic is an important aerosol source with the highest frequency of occurrence (32 %) and relatively high Ntot, however, its impact in the CCN activity is very limited likely due to lower particle mean diameter and hydrophobic chemical composition. Similarly, nucleation and growth categories, associated to new particle formation (NPF) events, present large Ntot with large frequency of occurrence (22 % and 28 %, respectively) but the CCN concentration for these categories is about half of the CCN concentration observed for the aged traffic category, which is associated with their small size. Overall, our results show that direct influence of traffic emissions on the CCN budget is limited, however, when these particles undergo ageing processes, they have a significant influence on the CCN concentrations and may be an important CCN source. Thus, aged traffic particles could be transported to other environments where clouds form, triggering a plausible indirect effect of traffic emissions on aerosol-cloud interactions and consequently contributing to climate change.