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Aerosols Found to Strengthen Storms

Storm clouds are affected by aerosols in the atmosphere. (Image:  mrpbps via   flickr /  CC BY 2.0 )
Storm clouds are affected by aerosols in the atmosphere. (Image: mrpbps via flickr / CC BY 2.0 )

Having a large quantity of aerosol particles in the atmosphere may increase the duration of large storm clouds by delaying rainfall, giving the clouds time to grow larger and live longer. This will produce more extreme storms when the rain finally falls.

The research from the University of Texas at Austin, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, addresses the influence aerosol particles have on the lifecycle of large thunderstorm systems.

These types of storms are often violent systems, which can span over hundreds of miles. The systems as noted in the paper are:

Using satellite data from 2,430 convective cloud systems, the researchers discovered that aerosols help to increase the lifespans of convective cloud systems (as much as 3-24 hours), depending on the regional meteorological conditions.

Sudip Chakraborty, lead author, explained in a statement:

Aerosols comprise small particles in the atmosphere; they form the nucleus within a cloud around which water condenses, forming the cloud. Aerosols come from natural sources like volcanic eruptions or desert dust; however, they can also come from man-made sources, for example the burning of wood, coal, or oil.

This is the first time a study has looked at aerosols and their importance in the lives of storm clouds compared with meteorological conditions such as relative humidity, available convective energy, and wind shear. Even though meteorological conditions remain the most important element, the research indicates that aerosols play a significant role.

Daniel Rosenfeld from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field, said the effects of aerosols on deep convective clouds and climate have been major questions for over a decade.

In particular, is the role of clouds in reflecting solar radiation and emitting thermal radiation to space, which can influence the radiative balance in the atmosphere and Earth’s temperature. This study significantly advances the science, Rosenfeld said, adding:

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