Research Article

Substantial convection and precipitation enhancements by ultrafine aerosol particles

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Science  26 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6374, pp. 411-418
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan8461

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Up with ultrafine aerosol particles

Ultrafine aerosol particles (smaller than 50 nanometers in diameter) have been thought to be too small to affect cloud formation. Fan et al. show that this is not the case. They studied the effect of urban pollution transported into the otherwise nearly pristine atmosphere of the Amazon. Condensational growth of water droplets around the tiny particles releases latent heat, thereby intensifying atmospheric convection. Thus, anthropogenic ultrafine aerosol particles may exert a more important influence on cloud formation processes than previously believed.

Science, this issue p. 411


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.

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