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Cloud condensation nuclei in western Colorado: observations and model predictions




Ward, Daniel Stewart, author

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Variations in the warm cloud‐active portion of atmospheric aerosols, or cloud condensation nuclei (CCN), have been shown to impact cloud droplet number concentration and subsequently cloud and precipitation processes. This issue carries special significance in western Colorado where a significant portion of the region’s water resources is supplied by precipitation from winter season, orographic clouds, which are particularly sensitive to variations in CCN. Temporal and spatial variations in CCN in western Colorado were investigated using a combination of observations and a new method for modeling CCN. As part of the Inhibition of Snowfall by Pollution Aerosols (ISPA‐III) field campaign, total particle and CCN number concentration were measured for a 24‐day period in Mesa Verde National Park, climatologically upwind of the San Juan Mountains. These data were combined with CCN observations from Storm Peak Lab (SPL) in northwestern Colorado and from the King Air platform, flying north to south along the Western Slope. Altogether, the sampled aerosols were characteristic of a rural continental environment and the cloud‐active portion varied slowly in time, and little in space. Estimates of the hygroscopicity parameter indicated consistently low aerosol hygroscopicity typical of organic aerosol species. The modeling approach included the addition of prognostic CCN to the Regional Atmospheric Modeling System (RAMS). The RAMS droplet activation scheme was altered using parcel model simulations to include variations in aerosol hygroscopicity, represented by . Analysis of the parcel model output and a supplemental sensitivity study showed that model CCN will be sensitive to changes in aerosol hygroscopicity, but only for conditions of low supersaturation or small particle sizes. Aerosol number, size distribution median radius, and hygroscopicity (represented by the kappaparameter) in RAMS were constrained by nudging to forecasts of these quantities from the Weather Research and Forecasting with Chemistry (WRF/Chem) model. The new system was validated against observations from SPL and research flights along the Colorado Front Range, and used to test the sensitivity of CCN in western Colorado to various anthropogenic emissions of aerosols and aerosol precursor gases. Results showed complex interactions between gas and aerosol species that could lead to an increase in CCN even when some emissions are eliminated. Both observations and modeling suggest that, although several large anthropogenic aerosol sources are located within the study region, these sources have a minor impact on the local CCN population.


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