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Atmospher Sci & Global Chg

February 2018

PNNL Atmospheric Scientist Leads Research Covered in Science, Media

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 Pacific Northwest National Laboratory atmospheric scientist Dr. Jiwen Fan, who is lead author of the paper in Science. Fan led 21 authors from 15 institutions around the world to do the study.

The findings are based largely on unique data made possible by the GoAmazon research campaign, where scientists made ground-based and airborne measurements related to climate during 2014-2015. The campaign was run by the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility, a DOE Office of Science user facility.

The research in the Science paper was featured by The Guardian, the U.K.'s Institute of Physics, ScienceNews, and InsideClimate News.

Watch the PNNL video, "Tiny Particles Power Stronger Storms."

For more information, see the PNNL news release, "Tiny particles have outsize impact on storm clouds, precipitation."

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