Precipitation driving of droplet concentration variability in marine low clouds

Wood, R., D. C. Leon, M. Lebsock, J. Snider, and A. D. Clarke (2012), Precipitation driving of droplet concentration variability in marine low clouds, J. Geophys. Res., 117, D19210, doi:10.1029/2012JD018305.

The concentration Nd of cloud droplets in marine low clouds is a primary determinant of their ability to reflect sunlight and modulates their ability to precipitate. Previous studies have focused upon aerosol source variability as the key driver of variability in Nd. Here, we use a highly simplified aerosol budget model to examine the impact of precipitation on Nd. This model considers: precipitation (coalescence) scavenging, constrained using new satellite measurements of light precipitation; entrainment of aerosol from above cloud combined with constant aerosol concentration based on recent field observations of aerosol particles in the free troposphere; and sea-surface aerosol production estimated using a wind speed dependent source function. Despite the highly simplified nature of this model, it skillfully predicts the geographical variability of Nd in regions of extensive marine low clouds. Inclusion of precipitation results in reduction in Nd by factors of 2–3 over the remote oceans. Within 500 km of coastlines the reduction in Nd due to precipitation is weak but in these regions the model is not able to accurately predict Nd because of strong pollution sources. In general, neither free-tropospheric nor surface CCN sources alone are sufficient to maintain Nd against precipitation losses. The results demonstrate that even the light precipitation rates typical of marine stratocumulus profoundly impact the radiative properties of marine low clouds.

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