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Published April 2001 | Accepted Version
Journal Article Open

Kinetic limitations on cloud droplet formation and impact on cloud albedo


Under certain conditions mass transfer limitations on the growth of cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) may have a significant impact on the number of droplets that can form in a cloud. The assumption that particles remain in equilibrium until activated may therefore not always be appropriate for aerosol populations existing in the atmosphere. This work identifies three mechanisms that lead to kinetic limitations, the effect of which on activated cloud droplet number and cloud albedo is assessed using a one-dimensional cloud parcel model with detailed microphysics for a variety of aerosol size distributions and updraft velocities. In assessing the effect of kinetic limitations, we have assumed as cloud droplets not only those that are strictly activated (as dictated by classical Köhler theory), but also unactivated drops large enough to have an impact on cloud optical properties. Aerosol number concentration is found to be the key parameter that controls the significance of kinetic effects. Simulations indicate that the equilibrium assumption leads to an overprediction of droplet number by less than 10% for marine aerosol; this overprediction can exceed 40% for urban type aerosol. Overall, the effect of kinetic limitations on cloud albedo can be considered important when equilibrium activation theory consistently overpredicts droplet number by more than 10%. The maximum change in cloud albedo as a result of kinetic limitations is less than 0.005 for cases such as marine aerosol; however albedo differences can exceed 0.1 under more polluted conditions. Kinetic limitations are thus not expected to be climatically significant on a global scale, but can regionally have a large impact on cloud albedo.

Additional Information

This work was supported at PNNL by the NASA Earth Science Enterprise under contract NAS5-98072 and by the US Department of Energy Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program, for which is part of the DOE Biological and Environmental Research Program. PNNL is operated for the DOE by Battelle Memorial Institute under contract DE-AC06-76RLO 1830. This work was supported at the California Institute of Technology by the Office of Naval Research.

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Accepted Version - JHS426.pdf


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