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Thunderstorm and stratocumulus: How does their contrasting morphology affect their interactions with aerosols?

by S. S. Lee, L. J. Donner, J. E. Penner
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics ()
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It is well-known that aerosols affect clouds and that the effect of aerosols on clouds is critical for understanding human-induced climate change. Most climate model studies have focused on the effect of aerosols on warm stratiform clouds (e. g., stratocumulus clouds) for the prediction of climate change. However, systems like the Asian and Indian Monsoon, storm tracks, and the intertropical convergence zone, play important roles in the global hydrological cycle and in the circulation of energy and are driven by thunderstorm-type convective clouds. Here, we show that the different morphologies of these two cloud types lead to different aerosol-cloud interactions. Increasing aerosols are known to suppress the conversion of droplets to rain (i.e., so-called autoconversion). This increases droplets as a source of evaporative cooling, leading to an increased intensity of downdrafts. The acceleration of the intensity of downdrafts is larger in convective clouds due to their larger cloud depths (providing longer paths for downdrafts to follow to the surface) than in stratiform clouds. More accelerated downdrafts intensify the gust front, leading to significantly increased updrafts, condensation and thus the collection of cloud liquid by precipitation, which offsets the suppressed autoconversion. This leads to an enhancement of precipitation with increased aerosols in convective clouds. However, the downdrafts are less accelerated in stratiform clouds due to their smaller cloud depths, and they are not able to induce changes in updrafts as large as those in convective clouds. Thus, the offset is not as effective, and this allows the suppression of precipitation with increased aerosols. Thus aerosols affect these cloud systems differently. The dependence of the effect of aerosols on clouds on the morphology of clouds should be taken into account for a more complete assessment of climate change

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