Dependence of Aerosol-Droplet Partitioning on Turbulence in a Laboratory Cloud

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Department of Physics


Activation is the first step in aerosol-cloud interactions, which have been identified as one of the principal uncertainties in Earth's climate system. Aerosol particles become cloud droplets, or activate, when the ambient saturation ratio exceeds a threshold, which depends on the particle's size and hygroscopicity. In the traditional formulation of the process, only average, uniform saturation ratios are considered. However, turbulent environments like clouds intrinsically have fluctuations around mean values in the scalar fields of temperature and water vapor concentration, which determine the saturation ratio. Through laboratory measurements, we show that these fluctuations are an important parameter that needs to be addressed to fully describe activation. Our results show, even for single-sized, chemically homogeneous aerosols, that fluctuations blur the correspondence between activation and a particle's size and chemical composition, that turbulence can increase the fraction of aerosol particles which activate, and that the activated fraction decreases monotonically as the concentration of aerosol increases. Taken together, our data demonstrate that fluctuations can have effects equivalent to the aerosol limited and updraft limited regimes, known from adiabatic parcel theory.

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Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres