Droplet Growth or Evaporation Does Not Buffer the Variability in Supersaturation in Clean Clouds

Jesse C. Anderson aMichigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan

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Ian Helman aMichigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan

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Raymond A. Shaw aMichigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan

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Will Cantrell aMichigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan

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Abstract

Water vapor supersaturation in clouds is a random variable that drives activation and growth of cloud droplets. The Pi Convection–Cloud Chamber generates a turbulent cloud with a microphysical steady state that can be varied from clean to polluted by adjusting the aerosol injection rate. The supersaturation distribution and its moments, e.g., mean and variance, are investigated for varying cloud microphysical conditions. High-speed and collocated Eulerian measurements of temperature and water vapor concentration are combined to obtain the temporally resolved supersaturation distribution. This allows quantification of the contributions of variances and covariances between water vapor and temperature. Results are consistent with expectations for a convection chamber, with strong correlation between water vapor and temperature; departures from ideal behavior can be explained as resulting from dry regions on the warm boundary, analogous to entrainment. The saturation ratio distribution is measured under conditions that show monotonic increase of liquid water content and decrease of mean droplet diameter with increasing aerosol injection rate. The change in liquid water content is proportional to the change in water vapor concentration between no-cloud and cloudy conditions. Variability in the supersaturation remains even after cloud droplets are formed, and no significant buffering is observed. Results are interpreted in terms of a cloud microphysical Damköhler number (Da), under conditions corresponding to Da1, i.e., the slow-microphysics regime. This implies that clouds with very clean regions, such that Da1 is satisfied, will experience supersaturation fluctuations without them being buffered by cloud droplet growth.

Significance Statement

The saturation ratio (humidity) in clouds controls the growth rate and formation of cloud droplets. When air in a turbulent cloud mixes, the humidity varies in space and time throughout the cloud. This is important because it means cloud droplets experience different growth histories, thereby resulting in broader size distributions. It is often assumed that growth and evaporation of cloud droplets buffers out some of the humidity variations. Measuring these variations has been difficult, especially in the field. The purpose of this study is to measure the saturation ratio distribution in clouds with a range of conditions. We measure the in-cloud saturation ratio using a convection cloud chamber with clean to polluted cloud properties. We found in clouds with low concentrations of droplets that the variations in the saturation ratio are not suppressed.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Jesse C. Anderson, jcanders@mtu.edu

Abstract

Water vapor supersaturation in clouds is a random variable that drives activation and growth of cloud droplets. The Pi Convection–Cloud Chamber generates a turbulent cloud with a microphysical steady state that can be varied from clean to polluted by adjusting the aerosol injection rate. The supersaturation distribution and its moments, e.g., mean and variance, are investigated for varying cloud microphysical conditions. High-speed and collocated Eulerian measurements of temperature and water vapor concentration are combined to obtain the temporally resolved supersaturation distribution. This allows quantification of the contributions of variances and covariances between water vapor and temperature. Results are consistent with expectations for a convection chamber, with strong correlation between water vapor and temperature; departures from ideal behavior can be explained as resulting from dry regions on the warm boundary, analogous to entrainment. The saturation ratio distribution is measured under conditions that show monotonic increase of liquid water content and decrease of mean droplet diameter with increasing aerosol injection rate. The change in liquid water content is proportional to the change in water vapor concentration between no-cloud and cloudy conditions. Variability in the supersaturation remains even after cloud droplets are formed, and no significant buffering is observed. Results are interpreted in terms of a cloud microphysical Damköhler number (Da), under conditions corresponding to Da1, i.e., the slow-microphysics regime. This implies that clouds with very clean regions, such that Da1 is satisfied, will experience supersaturation fluctuations without them being buffered by cloud droplet growth.

Significance Statement

The saturation ratio (humidity) in clouds controls the growth rate and formation of cloud droplets. When air in a turbulent cloud mixes, the humidity varies in space and time throughout the cloud. This is important because it means cloud droplets experience different growth histories, thereby resulting in broader size distributions. It is often assumed that growth and evaporation of cloud droplets buffers out some of the humidity variations. Measuring these variations has been difficult, especially in the field. The purpose of this study is to measure the saturation ratio distribution in clouds with a range of conditions. We measure the in-cloud saturation ratio using a convection cloud chamber with clean to polluted cloud properties. We found in clouds with low concentrations of droplets that the variations in the saturation ratio are not suppressed.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Jesse C. Anderson, jcanders@mtu.edu
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