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Climate: Bioparticles in dusty air may be key to rain and snow formation

Tiny bioparticles in atmospheric dust play a big role in the formation of raindrops and snowflakes. bberwyn photo.

Tiny bioparticles in atmospheric dust play a big role in the formation of raindrops and snowflakes. bberwyn photo.

Researchers starting to take nuanced look at chemical composition of aerosols

Staff Report

FRISCO —Scientists have long known that tiny grains of airborne dust are key players in the formation of rain and snow, driving precipitation patterns across the drought-stricken western U.S. and other areas.

New research suggests that  the exact chemical make-up of that dust, including microbes found in it, is the key to how much rain and snow falls from clouds.  The information could help better predict rain events, as well as explain how air pollution from a variety of sources influences regional climate in general.

“We’ve learned that not all of the particles in the air at high altitudes have the same influence on clouds. We’re starting to think that these differences contribute to how rain gets distributed,” said Dr. Kim Prather, who presented her findings at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society last week in San Francisco. Continue reading

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How do jet contrails fit into climate calculations?

UK researchers say rerouting flight paths could cut warming effect

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Flying over Greenland … bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Chemtrail conspiracy theorists aside, researchers at the University of Reading (UK) say that airplanes could reduce their climate impact by choosing flight paths in areas where jet exhaust condensation trails are less likely to form and persist.

The study, published June 19 in the journal Environmental Research Letters, shows that aircraft contribute less to global warming by avoiding the places where the thinly shaped clouds, called contrails, are produced – even if that means flying further and emitting more carbon dioxide. Continue reading

Forest emissions help drive cloud formation

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A building cumulus cloud in the Rocky Mountains.

Basic organic molecules serve as seed material for clouds

Staff Report

FRISCO — Researchers have long suspected that chemicals emitted from trees play a fundamental role in cloud formation, and recent experiments may help explain the basic molecular process.

Measuring how forest emissions influence cloud formation could help scientists develop more accurate climate models, which up to now can’t completely account for the role of clouds, cited as the biggest source of uncertainty in current climate models, according to the IPCC. Continue reading

Global warming: New research suggests climate may be more sensitive to greenhouse gases than previously thought

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Convective clouds over the Florida coast. bberwyn photo.

Correcting models with new information on cloud formation leads to higher projected temperature increases

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Climate scientists taking a closer look at the role of water vapor in cloud formation say the climate is probably more sensitive to greenhouse gases than most existing models suggest.

Based on those observations, they concluded that global temperatures could easily climb by at least 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century if carbon dioxide emissions continue unchecked.

The research, published in the journal Nature, helps answer one of the long-standing questions about climate sensitivity — the role of cloud formation and whether this will have a positive or negative effect on global warming. Continue reading

Study helps unravel the secret life of clouds

Air pollution can be a big factor in development of thunderclouds

Thundercloud over Peak 1

Air pollution can have a significant impact on the development of thunderclouds, causing cloud remnants to persist longer. bberwyn photo.

FRISCO — Air pollution can have a significant effect on the development of thunderhead clouds, causing the cloud remnants to persist high in the atmosphere long after thunderstorms dissipate. This, in turn, can affect daily temperature ranges, as the lingering clouds partially cool the Earth during the day with their shadows, but trap heat to keep nighttime temperatures warmer.

The new study, from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, helps answer long-running questions about how airborne pollutants affect climate warming. The findings will help provide a gauge for the accuracy of weather and climate models.

“This study reconciles what we see in real life to what computer models show us,” said atmospheric scientist Jiwen Fan. “Observations consistently show taller and bigger anvil-shaped clouds in storm systems with pollution, but the models don’t always show stronger convection. Now we know why.” Continue reading

Study helps pinpoint cirrus cloud formation

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Cirrus cloud study helps inform climate predictions.

Composition of seed material suggests human activity could be a significant factor

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Mineral dust and metallic aerosols are the key seeding agents for the formation of high-altitude cirrus clouds, which cover nearly a third of the globe at any given time. Often forming more than 10 miles up, cirrus clouds can cool the planet by reflecting solar radiation, and warm it, by trapping heat like a blanket.

A nine-year study of cirrus clouds using using instruments aboard high-altitude research aircraft is helping scientists get a better handle on the mechanisms driving cirrus cloud formation, and that, in turn, could help scientists predict future climate patterns. Continue reading

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