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Concept: Cloud


The change of global-mean precipitation under global warming and interannual variability is predominantly controlled by the change of atmospheric longwave radiative cooling. Here we show that tightening of the ascending branch of the Hadley Circulation coupled with a decrease in tropical high cloud fraction is key in modulating precipitation response to surface warming. The magnitude of high cloud shrinkage is a primary contributor to the intermodel spread in the changes of tropical-mean outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) and global-mean precipitation per unit surface warming (dP/dTs) for both interannual variability and global warming. Compared to observations, most Coupled Model Inter-comparison Project Phase 5 models underestimate the rates of interannual tropical-mean dOLR/dTs and global-mean dP/dTs, consistent with the muted tropical high cloud shrinkage. We find that the five models that agree with the observation-based interannual dP/dTs all predict dP/dTs under global warming higher than the ensemble mean dP/dTs from the ∼20 models analysed in this study.

Concepts: Earth, Precipitation, Climate, Meteorology, Global warming, Rain, Cloud


Understanding how animals respond to atmospheric conditions across space is critical for understanding the evolution of flight strategies and long-distance migrations. We studied the three-dimensional movements and energetics of great frigate birds (Fregata minor) and showed that they can stay aloft for months during transoceanic flights. To do this, birds track the edge of the doldrums to take advantage of favorable winds and strong convection. Locally, they use a roller-coaster flight, relying on thermals and wind to soar within a 50- to 600-meter altitude band under cumulus clouds and then glide over kilometers at low energy costs. To deal with the local scarcity of clouds and gain longer gliding distances, birds regularly soar inside cumulus clouds to use their strong updraft, and they can reach altitudes of 4000 meters, where freezing conditions occur.

Concepts: Weather, Bird, Tornado, Flying and gliding animals, Cloud, Frigatebird, Thermal, Cumulus cloud


Storm clouds frequently form in the summer period in temperate climate zones. Studies on these inaccessible and short-lived atmospheric habitats have been scarce. We report here on the first comprehensive biogeochemical investigation of a storm cloud using hailstones as a natural stochastic sampling tool. A detailed molecular analysis of the dissolved organic matter in individual hailstones via ultra-high resolution mass spectrometry revealed the molecular formulae of almost 3000 different compounds. Only a small fraction of these compounds were rapidly biodegradable carbohydrates and lipids, suitable for microbial consumption during the lifetime of cloud droplets. However, as the cloud environment was characterized by a low bacterial density (Me = 1973 cells/ml) as well as high concentrations of both dissolved organic carbon (Me = 179 µM) and total dissolved nitrogen (Me = 30 µM), already trace amounts of easily degradable organic compounds suffice to support bacterial growth. The molecular fingerprints revealed a mainly soil origin of dissolved organic matter and a minor contribution of plant-surface compounds. In contrast, both the total and the cultivable bacterial community were skewed by bacterial groups (γ-Proteobacteria, Sphingobacteriales and Methylobacterium) that indicated the dominance of plant-surface bacteria. The enrichment of plant-associated bacterial groups points at a selection process of microbial genera in the course of cloud formation, which could affect the long-distance transport and spatial distribution of bacteria on Earth. Based on our results we hypothesize that plant-associated bacteria were more likely than soil bacteria (i) to survive the airborne state due to adaptations to life in the phyllosphere, which in many respects matches the demands encountered in the atmosphere and (ii) to grow on the suitable fraction of dissolved organic matter in clouds due to their ecological strategy. We conclude that storm clouds are among the most extreme habitats on Earth, where microbial life exists.

Concepts: Oxygen, Bacteria, Microbiology, Precipitation, Climate, Chemistry, Microorganism, Cloud


The fine particles serving as cloud condensation nuclei in pristine Amazonian rainforest air consist mostly of secondary organic aerosol. Their origin is enigmatic, however, because new particle formation in the atmosphere is not observed. Here, we show that the growth of organic aerosol particles can be initiated by potassium-salt-rich particles emitted by biota in the rainforest. These particles act as seeds for the condensation of low- or semi-volatile organic compounds from the atmospheric gas phase or multiphase oxidation of isoprene and terpenes. Our findings suggest that the primary emission of biogenic salt particles directly influences the number concentration of cloud condensation nuclei and affects the microphysics of cloud formation and precipitation over the rainforest.

Concepts: Water, Precipitation, Atmosphere, Sulfate, Cloud, Amazon Rainforest, Cloud seeding, Cloud condensation nuclei


Cloud droplet formation depends on the condensation of water vapor on ambient aerosols, the rate of which is strongly affected by the kinetics of water uptake as expressed by the condensation (or mass accommodation) coefficient, α©. Estimates of α© for droplet growth from activation of ambient particles vary considerably and represent a critical source of uncertainty in estimates of global cloud droplet distributions and the aerosol indirect forcing of climate. We present an analysis of 10 globally relevant data sets of cloud condensation nuclei to constrain the value of α© for ambient aerosol. We find that rapid activation kinetics (α© > 0.1) is uniformly prevalent. This finding resolves a long-standing issue in cloud physics, as the uncertainty in water vapor accommodation on droplets is considerably less than previously thought.

Concepts: Water, Precipitation, Particulate, Ice nucleus, Rain, Cloud, Cloud seeding, Cloud condensation nuclei


Soot particles are ubiquitous in the atmosphere and have important climatic and health effects. The aging processes of soot during long-range transport result in variability in its morphology, microstructure, and hygroscopic and optical properties, subsequently leading to the modification of soot’s climatic and health effects. In the present study the aging process of soot by molecular O(2) under simulated sunlight irradiation is investigated. Organic carbon components on the surface of soot are found to play a key role in soot aging and are transformed into oxygen-containing organic species including quinones, ketones, aldehydes, lactones, and anhydrides. These oxygen-containing species may become adsorption centers of water and thus enhance the cloud condensation nuclei and ice nuclei activities of soot. Under irradiation of 25 mW·cm(-2), the apparent rate constants (k(1,obs)) for loss or formation of species on soot aged by 20% O(2) were larger by factors of 1.5-3.5 than those on soot aged by 100 ppb O(3). Considering the abundance of O(2) in the troposphere and its higher photoreactivity rate, the photochemical oxidation by O(2) under sunlight irradiation should be a very important aging process for soot.

Concepts: Oxygen, Precipitation, Carbon, Atmosphere, Ice nucleus, Cloud, Cloud seeding, Cloud condensation nuclei


Aerosol-cloud interactions remain the largest uncertainty in climate projections. Ultrafine aerosol particles smaller than 50 nanometers (UAP<50) can be abundant in the troposphere but are conventionally considered too small to affect cloud formation. Observational evidence and numerical simulations of deep convective clouds (DCCs) over the Amazon show that DCCs forming in a low-aerosol environment can develop very large vapor supersaturation because fast droplet coalescence reduces integrated droplet surface area and subsequent condensation. UAP<50 from pollution plumes that are ingested into such clouds can be activated to form additional cloud droplets on which excess supersaturation condenses and forms additional cloud water and latent heating, thus intensifying convective strength. This mechanism suggests a strong anthropogenic invigoration of DCCs in previously pristine regions of the world.

Concepts: Precipitation, Weather, Water vapor, Meteorology, Rain, Clouds, Cloud


Atmospheric aerosols and their effect on clouds are thought to be important for anthropogenic radiative forcing of the climate, yet remain poorly understood. Globally, around half of cloud condensation nuclei originate from nucleation of atmospheric vapours. It is thought that sulfuric acid is essential to initiate most particle formation in the atmosphere, and that ions have a relatively minor role. Some laboratory studies, however, have reported organic particle formation without the intentional addition of sulfuric acid, although contamination could not be excluded. Here we present evidence for the formation of aerosol particles from highly oxidized biogenic vapours in the absence of sulfuric acid in a large chamber under atmospheric conditions. The highly oxygenated molecules (HOMs) are produced by ozonolysis of α-pinene. We find that ions from Galactic cosmic rays increase the nucleation rate by one to two orders of magnitude compared with neutral nucleation. Our experimental findings are supported by quantum chemical calculations of the cluster binding energies of representative HOMs. Ion-induced nucleation of pure organic particles constitutes a potentially widespread source of aerosol particles in terrestrial environments with low sulfuric acid pollution.

Concepts: Electron, Chemistry, Atmosphere, Particulate, Sulfate, Venus, Cloud, Cloud seeding


Aerosols affect climate by modifying cloud properties through their role as cloud condensation nuclei or ice nuclei, called aerosol-cloud interactions. In most global climate models (GCMs), the aerosol-cloud interactions are represented by empirical parameterisations, in which the mass of cloud liquid water (LWP) is assumed to increase monotonically with increasing aerosol loading. Recent satellite observations, however, have yielded contradictory results: LWP can decrease with increasing aerosol loading. This difference implies that GCMs overestimate the aerosol effect, but the reasons for the difference are not obvious. Here, we reproduce satellite-observed LWP responses using a global simulation with explicit representations of cloud microphysics, instead of the parameterisations. Our analyses reveal that the decrease in LWP originates from the response of evaporation and condensation processes to aerosol perturbations, which are not represented in GCMs. The explicit representation of cloud microphysics in global scale modelling reduces the uncertainty of climate prediction.

Concepts: Water, Ice, Precipitation, Climate, Ice nucleus, Clouds, Cloud, Cloud seeding


Ions produced by cosmic rays have been thought to influence aerosols and clouds. In this study, the effect of ionization on the growth of aerosols into cloud condensation nuclei is investigated theoretically and experimentally. We show that the mass-flux of small ions can constitute an important addition to the growth caused by condensation of neutral molecules. Under atmospheric conditions the growth from ions can constitute several percent of the neutral growth. We performed experimental studies which quantify the effect of ions on the growth of aerosols between nucleation and sizes >20 nm and find good agreement with theory. Ion-induced condensation should be of importance not just in Earth’s present day atmosphere for the growth of aerosols into cloud condensation nuclei under pristine marine conditions, but also under elevated atmospheric ionization caused by increased supernova activity.

Concepts: Earth, Precipitation, Atmosphere, Ice nucleus, Clouds, Cloud, Cloud seeding, Cloud condensation nuclei