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January 19, 2017

SOURCE: How do your ice crystals grow? NSF fellow chases fires to study clouds

When fires – accidental or controlled – burn across Colorado and surrounding states, billions of microscopic soot particles flutter into the atmosphere. If they rise high enough, and conditions are just right, these black carbon particles can trigger the formation of ice in clouds.

The composition and lifetime of clouds have major implications for weather and climate. Yet all the microphysics of how ice crystals form in clouds remain unclear, as do what sources – wildfires, dust storms or sea spray among them – contribute the most. Colorado State University atmospheric scientist Gregg Schill is seeking to isolate the relationship between clouds, and the black carbon from burning biomass. His goal: providing real data to help climate modelers predict critical climate effects in years to come.

Schill is a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Professor of Atmospheric Science Sonia Kreidenweis, and he works with Paul DeMott, a senior scientist in Kreidenweis’ group. Schill’s research is supported by the NSF Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences Postdoctoral Research Fellowship.

“We’re interested in measuring the specific contributions of black carbon to ice nucleating particles,” Schill said. “Ice nucleating particles have large implications for both precipitation and cloud radiative properties, and they form the basis for one of our largest uncertainties in the prediction of climate change.”

Read the SOURCE article