Intercomparison of aerosol-cloud-precipitation interactions in stratiform orographic mixed-phase clouds

A. Muhlbauer, T. Hashino, L. Xue, A. Teller, U. Lohmann, R. M. Rasmussen, I. Geresdi, Z. Pan

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46 Citations (Scopus)


Anthropogenic aerosols serve as a source of both cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) and ice nuclei (IN) and affect microphysical properties of clouds. Increasing aerosol number concentrations is hypothesized to retard the cloud droplet coalescence and the riming in mixed-phase clouds, thereby decreasing orographic precipitation. This study presents results from a model intercomparison of 2-D simulations of aerosol-cloud-precipitation interactions in stratiform orographic mixed-phase clouds. The sensitivity of orographic precipitation to changes in the aerosol number concentrations is analysed and compared for various dynamical and thermodynamical situations. Furthermore, the sensitivities of microphysical processes such as coalescence, aggregation, riming and diffusional growth to changes in the aerosol number concentrations are evaluated and compared. The participating numerical models are the model from the Consortium for Small-Scale Modeling (COSMO) with bulk microphysics, the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model with bin microphysics and the University of Wisconsin modeling system (UWNMS) with a spectral ice habit prediction microphysics scheme. All models are operated on a cloud-resolving scale with 2 km horizontal grid spacing. The results of the model intercomparison suggest that the sensitivity of orographic precipitation to aerosol modifications varies greatly from case to case and from model to model. Neither a precipitation decrease nor a precipitation increase is found robustly in all simulations. Qualitative robust results can only be found for a subset of the simulations but even then quantitative agreement is scarce. Estimates of the aerosol effect on orographic precipitation are found to range from ĝ̂'19% to 0% depending on the simulated case and the model. Similarly, riming is shown to decrease in some cases and models whereas it increases in others, which implies that a decrease in riming with increasing aerosol load is not a robust result. Furthermore, it is found that neither a decrease in cloud droplet coalescence nor a decrease in riming necessarily implies a decrease in precipitation due to compensation effects by other microphysical pathways. The simulations suggest that mixed-phase conditions play an important role in buffering the effect of aerosol perturbations on cloud microphysics and reducing the overall susceptibility of clouds and precipitation to changes in the aerosol number concentrations. As a consequence the aerosol effect on precipitation is suggested to be less pronounced or even inverted in regions with high terrain (e.g., the Alps or Rocky Mountains) or in regions where mixed-phase microphysics is important for the climatology of orographic precipitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8173-8196
Number of pages24
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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