New particle formation (NPF) was predicted to contribute to a major fraction of free tropospheric particle number and cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) concentrations by global models. At high altitudes, pre-existing particle concentrations are low, leading to limited condensational sinks for nucleation precursor gases, and temperatures are cooler compared to lower altitudes, whereas radiation is higher. These factors would all be in favor of nucleation to occur with an enhanced frequency at high altitudes. In the present work, long term data from six altitude stations (and four continents) at various altitudes (from 1465 to 5240 m a.s.l) were used to derive statistically relevant NPF features (frequency, formation rates, and growth rates) and seasonal variability. The combined information together with literature data showed that the frequencies of NPF events at the two Southern hemisphere (SH) stations are some of the highest reported thus far (64% and 67%, respectively). There are indications that NPF would be favored at a preferential altitude close to the interface of the free troposphere (FT) with the planetary boundary layer (PBL) and/or at the vicinity with clouds, which otherwise inhibit the occurrence of NPF. Particle formation rates are found to be lower at high altitudes than at low altitude sites, but a higher fraction of particles are formed via the charged pathway (mainly related to positive ions) compared to boundary layer (BL) sites. Low condensational sinks (CS) are not necessarily needed at high altitudes to promote the occurrence of NPF. For stations at altitudes higher than 1000 m a.s.l., higher CSs favor NPF and are thought to be associated with precursor gases needed to initiate nucleation and early growth.
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