AN EXPERIMENTAL INVESTIGATION OF THE EFFECT OF AIR POLLUTION ON THE INITIATION OF RAIN

Ross Gunn U. S. Weather Bureau

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B. B. Phillips U. S. Weather Bureau

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Abstract

Measurements in a giant expansion chamber show that the size of newly formed cloud droplets depends critically upon the cleanliness of the processed air. Droplets formed in ordinary air are small, but droplets large enough to precipitate are immediately formed by condensation whenever the condensation-nuclei density is sufficiently reduced. The product of mean drop mass and the activated nuclei density approximates the available free water per unit volume. Cloud droplets formed from polluted surface air are usually too small to precipitate, but large droplets formed overhead by condensation in sufficiently clean air may fall through the polluted cloud and initiate rain through association processes. Since the activated nuclei density is normally observed to decrease with increasing altitude, the probability of generating droplets sufficiently large to initiate rain increases as the vertical development of a cloud system increases. The population densities of large cloud droplets normally observed near the tops of precipitating clouds may be explained in terms of an overlying parcel of cooled air that is initially relatively free of nuclei.

Since pollution is swept out of the atmosphere by diffusion onto cloud droplets, and by droplet movement, it is suggested that periods of general cloudiness and precipitation reduce the original nuclei density and permit the subsequently formed droplets to grow still larger, thus increasing the probability of appreciable precipitation. The rain producing cycle is, therefore, equipped with a feed-back or regenerative mechanism which normally proceeds, in a given mass of air, until the air is appreciably desiccated.

Condensation nuclei as well as water vapor normally accumulate simultaneously in fair weather. The presence of nuclei may delay the initiation of precipitation until sufficient vertical instability can be established to lift or cool the relatively clean overlying layers. The precipitation cycle may then be re-established. The investigation shows that rain may be formed directly from the vapor in clean air, without the production of clouds.

Abstract

Measurements in a giant expansion chamber show that the size of newly formed cloud droplets depends critically upon the cleanliness of the processed air. Droplets formed in ordinary air are small, but droplets large enough to precipitate are immediately formed by condensation whenever the condensation-nuclei density is sufficiently reduced. The product of mean drop mass and the activated nuclei density approximates the available free water per unit volume. Cloud droplets formed from polluted surface air are usually too small to precipitate, but large droplets formed overhead by condensation in sufficiently clean air may fall through the polluted cloud and initiate rain through association processes. Since the activated nuclei density is normally observed to decrease with increasing altitude, the probability of generating droplets sufficiently large to initiate rain increases as the vertical development of a cloud system increases. The population densities of large cloud droplets normally observed near the tops of precipitating clouds may be explained in terms of an overlying parcel of cooled air that is initially relatively free of nuclei.

Since pollution is swept out of the atmosphere by diffusion onto cloud droplets, and by droplet movement, it is suggested that periods of general cloudiness and precipitation reduce the original nuclei density and permit the subsequently formed droplets to grow still larger, thus increasing the probability of appreciable precipitation. The rain producing cycle is, therefore, equipped with a feed-back or regenerative mechanism which normally proceeds, in a given mass of air, until the air is appreciably desiccated.

Condensation nuclei as well as water vapor normally accumulate simultaneously in fair weather. The presence of nuclei may delay the initiation of precipitation until sufficient vertical instability can be established to lift or cool the relatively clean overlying layers. The precipitation cycle may then be re-established. The investigation shows that rain may be formed directly from the vapor in clean air, without the production of clouds.

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