Physics and Chemistry of Clouds

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Mitigating gaps in knowledge related to these topics is vital to improving our understanding of our present and future weather and climate systems. Atmospheric chemistry encompasses the interaction of gases and aerosol particles with each other and with the environment.

Furthermore, aerosol particles govern cloud formation with subsequent important implications for the radiative budget of the atmosphere, water vapor distribution, and the hydrological cycle. Our faculty study i the origin of certain trace gases, with special emphasis on the large scale hemispheric, or global contribution from human activities, ii the potential of natural and anthropogenic aerosol particles to form ice clouds and how this can be parameterized; iii the interaction of aerosol particles with atmospheric trace gas species to assess the impact of multiphase chemical kinetics on air quality and climate; iv the global rate of removal of several reactive species and how this is affected by human or natural changes over time; v the role of marine biological activity in sea spray aerosol production and its climatic impact.

Cloud physics

Cloud physics is the study of the properties of clouds and the processes involved in their formation and evolution. How cloud formation and growth occur are directly tied to the former while the interaction of clouds with radiation is linked to the latter.


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A better understanding of these topics is necessary for improvement of their representation in weather and climate models in order to increase short- and long-term forecasts. In an attempt to better understand atmospheric process, such as convection, cloud formation and extreme weather, scientist build numerical models. These models range in complexity from simple models meant to conceptualize robust behaviors of the atmosphere to more sophisticated models that bring together many components of the Earth system.

Illinois students are studying the effects of emissions from aviation on atmospheric chemistry and composition, and resulting impacts on climate. Research is also aimed at understanding the effects of dust storms in China on Asian air quality and nutrient deposition in the ocean, the interactions of this dust with urban and biomass burning air pollutants, its long-range transport and resulting effects on Asia and elsewhere, including effects on the circulations within hurricanes.

Atmospheric Chemistry, Aerosols & Clouds

Students are also using satellites, numerical models and in-situ probes to explore how changes in aerosol concentration and composition affects clouds, precipitation and the radiative budget. All aspects of clouds, from their basic microphysical properties to their role in the global climate system, are studied. This system is used in field programs and on campus to characterize precipitation from clouds and its effects. Students in the department also work on a wide array of investigations which include field studies of cloud and cloud systems, remote sensing studies of clouds from space, numerical modeling of individual clouds and cloud systems, and development of cloud and precipitation parameterizations for weather prediction and global climate models.

Clouds are a vital link in the global and regional weather climate and hydrological cycle.

Research conducted by ATOC builds on knowledge of the fundamental set of thermodynamic and physical principles by applying them to quantitatively describe the behavior of cloud development and precipitation enhancement, and develop quantitative and qualitative analysis of thermodynamic and microphysical processes relevant for cloud development and evolution. Professor Kay's research, for example, has investigated cloud-sea ice interactions and their impact on climate feedbacks, as well as precipitation-cloud-aerosol interactions in a warming Arctic.



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