Ice Formation in Clouds Created by Air Turbulence

Thin Clouds Leipzig

Thin layers of clouds in the Leipzig region. Credit: Johannes Bühl, TROPOS

Scientists from Leipzig measure an important sub-process of the water cycle.

Vertical air motions increase ice formation in mixed-phase clouds. This correlation was predicted theoretically for a long time, but could now be observed for the first time in nature. This result was published by a team from Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research (TROPOS) in Leipzig in npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, an Open Access journal published by Nature Research. Using laser and radar equipment, the team measured the vertical air velocity and ice formation in thin mixed-phase clouds. Such clouds contain ice particles, water vapor as well as supercooled liquid droplets. The results from Leipzig could help to map an important part of the water cycle better in the weather and climate models in the future by ice formation in clouds.

The formation of ice in clouds is a core element of the water cycle on Earth. It is usually difficult to isolate the ice formation process in order to study it individually because the interaction of aerosol particles, air motion, and microphysical processes in clouds is too complex. Nevertheless, it is necessary to understand these processes in detail in order to better map this mechanism in weather and climate models.

Clouds Leipzig

Thin layers of clouds in the Leipzig region. Credit: Johannes Bühl, TROPOS

The cloud researchers concentrated on a less spectacular and therefore less considered form of clouds in order to exclude other processes than primary ice formation. They investigated large cloud fields at an altitude of about 2 to 8 kilometers (1.2 to 5 miles)  with a vertical extent of only 100 to 200 meters (330 to 660 feet) and contained extremely little ice in the range of micrograms per cubic meter. Such thin clouds allow both ice to be detected with a cloud radar and the vertical air movement with a Doppler lidar, as the laser beam can still penetrate the clouds. Both lidar and radar instruments were therefore necessary to investigate the turbulence and ice formation in these clouds above Leipzig from the ground. “The effect only became visible when we observed the ice directly below the clouds’ top layer. Our findings enable for the first time quantitative and well constraint insights into the relationship between turbulence and ice formation in the atmosphere. The stronger a cloud is ‘shaken’ by vertical air motions, the more ice falls out of it,” reports Dr. Johannes Bühl of TROPOS. This correlation was measured for clouds colder than -12 °C (10 °F). Next, the remote sensing scientists want to explore the influence of aerosols by taking a closer look at the beginning (ice nucleation) and end (precipitation of ice particles) of the ice formation process.

Ice formation in clouds is an important process in the atmosphere, because without this ice practically no precipitation would fall from clouds in the middle latitudes of the Earth. As far-reaching as these processes may be, many details have not yet been sufficiently understood and are therefore not taken into account in the weather and climate models.


Reference: “Impact of vertical air motions on ice formation rate in mixed-phase cloud layers” by Johannes Bühl, Patric Seifert, Ronny Engelmann and Albert Ansmann, 14 October 2019, npj Climate and Atmospheric Science.
DOI: 10.1038/s41612-019-0092-6

The study was funded by the European Union under the Seventh Framework Programme (ACTRIS / 262254 and BACCHUS / 603445) and the German Research Foundation (DFG; UNDINE / 162311106).

1 Comment on "Ice Formation in Clouds Created by Air Turbulence"

  1. This article goes to show that to end global warming we must ALL, civilian, military stop flying jet engine airplanes and using rockets of all kinds. Jet engine airplanes are gigantic vacuum machines sucking up the upper atmosphere water molecules, heating them up and polluting them which results in destroying them. Go to to see all the planes in the air at that moment of the day. There are about 92,000 jet flights a day by civilian aircraft. Who knows how many military planes are in the air everyday. A lot I’m sure. Civilian airplanes exhaust ranges from 800 degrees to 1200 degrees. Military jets exhaust ranges from 1200 degrees to 2500 degrees. There is nothing else that is so hot like these jets that we humans put into the sky. As you vacuum your floor with your vacuum watch how dust balls are sucked into the vacuum from areas not directly in front of the vacuum. That same action is going on in the upper atmosphere. These jet planes are vacuuming up a lot of good cloud producing water molecules and leaving exhaust that further destroys water molecules! We will NEVER end global warming until we ALL stop flying jet airplanes and go back to using propeller airplanes because they don’t destroy our environment. We had WWI and WWII and we didn’t experience global warming. It wasn’t until we started flying jet engine airplanes in mass in the 1960’s which is when the global warming started. Take a look at the weather maps after 9-11 when the air traffic was stopped after the twin towers attack in New York. See how the cloud production worldwide increased dramatically for a while while the order to stop flying was initiated then. We can immediately start producing more clouds and more rain if we don’t fly jet planes! Check out the Facebook page of Ron McCune from Chicago Illinois to see more details about this.

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