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Department of Physics


Entrainment of dry air into clouds strongly influences cloud optical and precipitation properties and the response of clouds to aerosol perturbations. The response of cloud droplet size distributions to entrainment–mixing is examined in the Pi convection-cloud chamber that creates a turbulent, steady-state cloud. The experiments are conducted by injecting dry air with temperature (Te) and flow rate (Qe) through a flange in the top boundary, into the otherwise well-mixed cloud, to mimic the entrainment–mixing process. Due to the large-scale circulation, the downwind region is directly affected by entrained dry air, whereas the upwind region is representative of the background conditions. Droplet concentration (Cn) and liquid water content (L) decrease in the downwind region, but the difference in the mean diameter of droplets (Dm) is small. The shape of cloud droplet size distributions relative to the injection point is unchanged, to within statistical uncertainty, resulting in a signature of inhomogeneous mixing, as expected for droplet evaporation times small compared to mixing time scales. As Te and Qe of entrained air increase, however, Cn, L, and Dm of the whole cloud system decrease, resulting in a signature of homogeneous mixing. The apparent contradiction is understood as the cloud microphysical responses to entrainment and mixing differing on local and global scales: locally inhomogeneous and globally homogeneous. This implies that global versus local sampling of clouds can lead to seemingly contradictory results for mixing, which informs the long-standing debate about the microphysical response to entrainment and the parameterization of this process for coarse-resolution models.

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This work was supported by Department of Energy Office of Science grant number DE-SC0022128. F.Y. was supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the Department of Energy, Office of Science, through the United States Department of Energy Contract No. DE-SC0012704 to Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Copyright © 2023 the Author(s). Published by PNAS. This article is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND).

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Publication Title

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences