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Tiny Particles Have Outsize Impact On Storm Clouds, Precipitation

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Tiny particles fuel powerful storms and influence weather much more than has been appreciated, according to a study in the Jan. 26 issue of the journal Science.

Tiny particles fuel powerful storms and influence weather much more than has been appreciated, according to a study in the Jan. 26 issue of the journal Science.

The research focuses on the power of minute airborne particles known as aerosols, which can come from urban and industrial air pollution, wildfires and other sources. While scientists have known that aerosols may play an important role in shaping weather and climate, the new study shows that the smallest of particles have an outsize effect: Particles smaller than one-thousandth the width of a human hair can cause storms to intensify, clouds to grow and more rain to fall.

The tiny pollutants — long considered too small to have much impact on droplet formation — are, in effect, diminutive downpour-makers.

"We showed that the presence of these particles is one reason why some storms become so strong and produce so much rain. In a warm and humid area where atmospheric conditions are otherwise very clean, the intrusion of very small particles can make quite an impact," said Jiwen Fan of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who is lead author of the paper in Science. Fan led 21 authors from 15 institutions around the world to do the study.

Read more at DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Image: A heavily instrumented ground site downwind of Manaus captured measurements of aerosols, clouds, and solar and thermal energy during GoAmazon. (Credit: US Department of Energy ARM Climate Research Facility)