Sensitivity of convection to observed variation in aerosol size distributions and composition at a rural site in the southeastern United States

T. L. O'Halloran, J. D. Fuentes, W. K. Tao, X. Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


We present a sensitivity analysis to determine the impact of variations in aerosol physical and chemical characteristics, as observed in the field in the southeastern United States, on convective cloud microphysics. Scenarios reflecting changes in aerosol properties, observed over the Piedmont of Virginia and associated with new particle formation and growth events, were evaluated using the two-dimensional version of the Goddard Cumulus Ensemble Model with detailed spectral-bin microphysics. Two aerosol size distributions represented early and late stages of particle growth, and two aerosol chemical compositions (norpinic acid and ammonium sulfate) represented extremes in aerosol hygroscopicity observed at the field site, for a total of four scenarios. The chosen compositions reflect inferred local changes in aerosol composition over short time scales. Variations in the aerosol size distribution and composition resulted in substantial variation in the total number of cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) produced in the four case studies. Cases with high CCN concentrations developed larger, more vigorous clouds with more precipitation generated by both warm and cold rain processes. Greater numbers of drops were propelled aloft and formed an extensive ice anvil that produced a large area of stratiform rain. Convection was enhanced by increasing aerosols despite decreases in precipitation efficiency. In contrast, lower CCN concentrations developed smaller clouds with suppressed cold rain processes and less total precipitation. The relatively small increase in CCN concentration associated with the increase in aerosol hygroscopicity resulted in an increase in accumulated modeled precipitation of 12 % after 180 min of simulation time in both high and low CCN cases. The increase in accumulated precipitation due to the substantial increase in CCN concentration associated with growth of the aerosol size distribution was 93 % for both aerosol compositions. The timing of the onset of precipitation was not affected by aerosol concentration or composition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)441-454
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Atmospheric Chemistry
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Sensitivity of convection to observed variation in aerosol size distributions and composition at a rural site in the southeastern United States'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this