Particle-turbulence interactions in atmospheric clouds

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Turbulence is ubiquitous in atmospheric clouds, which have enormous turbulence Reynolds numbers owing to the large range of spatial scales present. Indeed, the ratio of energy-containing and dissipative length scales is on the order of 105 for a typical convective cloud, with a corresponding large-eddy Reynolds number on the order of 106 to 107. A characteristic trait of high-Reynolds-number turbulence is strong intermittency in energy dissipation, Lagrangian acceleration, and scalar gradients at small scales. Microscale properties of clouds are determined to a great extent by thermodynamic and fluid-mechanical interactions between droplets and the surrounding air, all of which take place at small spatial scales. Furthermore, these microscale properties of clouds affect the efficiency with which clouds produce rain as well as the nature of their interaction with atmospheric radiation and chemical species. It is expected,therefore, that fine-scale turbulence is of direct importance to the evolution of, for example, the droplet size distribution in a cloud. In general, there are two levels of interaction that are considered in this review: (a) the growth of cloud droplets by condensation and (b) the growth of large drops through the collision and coalescence of cloud droplets. Recent research suggests that the influence of fine-scale turbulence on the condensation process may be limited, although several possible mechanisms have not been studied in detail in the laboratory or the field. There is a growing consensus, however, however, that the collision rate and collision efficiency of cloud droplets can be increased by turbulence-particle interactions. Adding strength to this notion is the growing experimental evidence for droplet clustering at centimeter scales and below, most likely due to strong fluid accelerations in turbulent clouds. Both types of interaction, condensation and collision-coalescence, remain open areas of research with many possible implications for the physics of atmospheric clouds.

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Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics