Cloud Radiative processes

Clouds control Earth’s energy budget and global temperature, power its many storms, and provide the precipitation that sustains its life. Understanding cloud processes is critical to all aspects of atmospheric science, from numerical weather prediction to global climate change. Clouds present atmospheric scientists with the most complex of research challenges. Composed of countless water droplets and ice crystals, each formed on a microscopic aerosol particle, they cover vast regions of the planet, change constantly, interact with radiation in complex ways and —worst of all for researchers—are above the ground where we can’t reach them easily with instrumentation. We are forced to study clouds with probes mounted on aircraft, or with satellites and radars that sense electromagnetic radiation they either scatter or produce, or with numerical models, that attempt to simulate their many physical and dynamical characteristics.

At the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, we have an exceptionally strong research group focusing on all aspects of clouds, from their basic microphysical properties to their role in the global climate system. A new acquisition to the program is the SCAMP (System for Characterizing And Measuring Precipitation), a mobile suite of instruments comprised of a vertically pointing Doppler radar, particle spectrometer, optical disdrometer, rain/snow gauge, aerosol optical particle sizer, and a weather station. This system is used in field programs and on campus to characterize precipitation from clouds and its effects. A new dual, 3-D scanning lidar system from the Prairie Research Institute can be used to measure aerosol concentrations and movements before they get into the clouds. Students in the department 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. Students conduct investigations that are far reaching, from the studies of clouds near the top of the atmosphere, such as polar stratospheric clouds interacting with the Earth’s protective ozone layer—to the fair weather cumulus and the cumulonimbus clouds of the tropics, which feed the Earth’s Hadley cell and subsequently drive the atmosphere’s global heat engine. We need more students to tackle these challenges if we are to solve the pressing environmental problems of the 21st century—are you the right person to take on this effort?

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