Cleaning up our water: reducing interferences from nonhomogeneous freezing of “pure” water in droplet freezing assays of ice-nucleating particles
Droplet freezing techniques (DFTs) have been used for half a century to measure the concentration of ice-nucleating particles (INPs) in the atmosphere and determine their freezing properties to understand the effects of INPs on mixed-phase clouds. The ice nucleation community has recently adopted droplet freezing assays as a commonplace experimental approach. These droplet freezing experiments are often limited by contamination that causes nonhomogeneous freezing of the pure water used to generate the droplets in the heterogeneous freezing temperature regime that is being measured. Interference from the early freezing of water is often overlooked and not fully reported, or measurements are restricted to analyzing the more ice-active INPs that freeze well above the temperature of the background water. However, this avoidance is not viable for analyzing the freezing behavior of less active INPs in the atmosphere that still have potentially important effects on cold-cloud microphysics. In this work we review a number of recent droplet freezing techniques that show great promise in reducing these interferences, and we report our own extensive series of measurements using similar methodologies. By characterizing the performance of different substrates on which the droplets are placed and of different pure water generation techniques, we recommend best practices to reduce these interferences. We tested different substrates, water sources, droplet matrixes, and droplet sizes to provide deeper insight into what methodologies are best suited for DFTs. Approaches for analyzing droplet freezing temperature spectra and accounting and correcting for the background pure water control spectrum are also presented. Finally, we propose experimental and data analysis procedures for future homogeneous and heterogeneous ice nucleation studies to promote a more uniform and reliable methodology that facilitates the ready intercomparison of ice-nucleating particles measured by DFTs.