Researchers are developing improved methods for representing cloud formation in global climate models because of increased aerosol pollution, which gives clouds more cooling power and affects precipitation. Here, cumulonimbus clouds develop over the mountains of western North Carolina. Photo by Grant W. Goodge, Courtesy of NOAA
Atmospheric scientists have developed simple, physics-based equations that address some of the limitations of current methods for representing cloud formation in global climate models – important because of increased aerosol pollution that gives clouds more cooling power and affects precipitation.
These researchers – led by the Georgia Institute of Technology -- have also developed a new instrument for measuring the conditions and time needed for a particle to become a cloud droplet. This will help scientists determine how various types of emissions affect cloud formation. The research is funded by the National Science Foundation.
Clouds play a critical role in climate, Nenes explained. Low, thick ones cool the earth by reflecting solar radiation whereas high, thin clouds have warming properties by trapping infrared radiation emitted by the earth. Scientists have learned that human activities influence cloud formation. Airborne particles released by smokestacks, charcoal grills and car exhaust restrict the growth of cloud droplets, causing condensing water to spread out among a larger number of smaller droplets. Known as the "indirect aerosol effect," this gives clouds more surface area and reflectivity, which translates into greater cooling power. The clouds may also have less chance of forming rain, which allows cloud to remain longer for cooling.
Jane Sanders | EurekAlert!
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