Review

Flood or Drought: How Do Aerosols Affect Precipitation?

Science  05 Sep 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5894, pp. 1309-1313
DOI: 10.1126/science.1160606

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Abstract

Aerosols serve as cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) and thus have a substantial effect on cloud properties and the initiation of precipitation. Large concentrations of human-made aerosols have been reported to both decrease and increase rainfall as a result of their radiative and CCN activities. At one extreme, pristine tropical clouds with low CCN concentrations rain out too quickly to mature into long-lived clouds. On the other hand, heavily polluted clouds evaporate much of their water before precipitation can occur, if they can form at all given the reduced surface heating resulting from the aerosol haze layer. We propose a conceptual model that explains this apparent dichotomy.

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