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Dirty air brings rain -- then again, maybe not
Date:9/8/2008

ebrew University, adds: "The amount of aerosols is the critical factor controlling how the energy is distributed in the atmosphere." Clouds, and therefore precipitation, come about when moist, warm air rises from ground level and water condenses or freezes on the aerosols aloft. The energy responsible for evaporating the water from the earth's surface and lifting the air is provided by the sun.

Aerosols act twofold: On the one hand, they act like a sunscreen reducing the amount of sun energy reaching the ground. Accordingly, less water evaporates and the air at ground level stays cooler and drier, with less of a tendency to rise and form clouds.

On the other hand, there would be no cloud droplets without aerosols. Some of them act as gathering points for air humidity, so called condensation nuclei. On these tiny particles with diameters of less than a thousandth of a millimeter the water condenses similar to dew on cold ground releasing energy in the process. This is the same energy that was earlier used to evaporate the water from the earth's surface. The released heat warms the air parcel so that it can rise further, taking the cloud droplets with it.

But if there is a surplus of these gathering points, the droplets never reach the critical mass needed to fall to earth as rain there just is not enough water to share between all the aerosol particles. Also, with a rising number of droplets their overall surface increases, which increases the amount of sunlight reflected back to space and thus cooling and drying the earth.

In a nutshell, then, the study results show the following: With rising pollution, the amount of precipitation at first rises, than maxes out and finally falls off sharply at very high aerosol concentrations. The practical result is that in relatively clean air, adding aerosols up to the amount that releases the maximum of available energy increases precipitation. Beyond that point, increasing the aerosol l
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Contact: Jerry Barach
jerryb@savion.huji.ac.il
972-258-82904
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Source:Eurekalert  

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