Mapping the Impact of Aerosol-Cloud Interactions on Cloud Formation and Warm-season Rainfall in Mountainous Regions Using Observations and Models

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Light rainfall (< 3 mm/hr) amounts to 30–70% of the annual water budget in the Southern Appalachian Mountains (SAM), a mid-latitude mid-mountain system in the SE CONUS. Topographic complexity favors the diurnal development of regional-scale convergence patterns that provide the moisture source for low-level clouds and fog (LLCF). Low-level moisture and cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) are distributed by ridge-valley circulations favoring LLCF formation that modulate the diurnal cycle of rainfall especially the mid-day peak. The overarching objective of this dissertation is to advance the quantitative understanding of the indirect effect of aerosols on the diurnal cycle of LLCF and warm-season precipitation in mountainous regions generally, and in the SAM in particular, for the purpose of improving the representation of orographic precipitation processes in remote sensing retrievals and physically-based models.

The research approach consists of integrating analysis of in situ observations from long-term observation networks and an intensive field campaign, multi-sensor satellite data, and modeling studies. In the first part of this dissertation, long-term satellite observations are analyzed to characterize the spatial and temporal variability of LLCF and to elucidate the physical basis of the space-time error structure in precipitation retrievals. Significantly underestimated precipitation errors are attributed to variations in low-level rainfall microstructure undetected by satellites. Column model simulations including observed LLCF microphysics demonstrate that seeder-feeder interactions (SFI) among upper-level precipitation and LLCF contribute to an three-fold increase in observed rainfall accumulation and can enhance surface rainfall by up to ten-fold. The second part of this dissertation examines the indirect effect of aerosols on cloud formation and warm-season daytime precipitation in the SAM. A new entraining spectral cloud parcel model was developed and applied to provide the first assessment of aerosol-cloud interactions in the early development of mid-day cumulus congestus over the inner SAM. Leveraging comprehensive measurements from the Integrated Precipitation and Hydrology Experiment (IPHEx) in 2014, model results indicate that simulated spectra with a low value of condensation coefficient (0.01) are in good agreement with IPHEx aircraft observations. Further, to explore sensitivity of warm-season precipitation processes to CCN characteristics, detailed intercomparisons of Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model simulations using IPHEx and standard continental CCN spectra were conducted. The simulated CDNC using the local spectrum show better agreement with IPHEx airborne observations and better replicate the widespread low-level cloudiness around mid-day over the inner region. The local spectrum simulation also indicate suppressed early precipitation, enhanced ice processes tied to more vigorous vertical development of individual storm cells. The studied processes here are representative of dominant moist atmospheric processes in complex terrain and cloud forests in the humid tropics and extra-tropics, thus findings from this research in the SAM are transferable to mountainous areas elsewhere.





Duan, Yajuan (2017). Mapping the Impact of Aerosol-Cloud Interactions on Cloud Formation and Warm-season Rainfall in Mountainous Regions Using Observations and Models. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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