Even the Tiniest Aerosol Particles Can Kick Up a Storm


A new study suggests that tiny aerosol particles from pollution plumes have a greater influence on stormy weather over pristine regions of the world, such as oceans and large forests, than previously believed. Because water cycling in these areas contributes substantially to global weather patterns, the human-made aerosol effects observed in these regions may also trigger climate shifts around the world, the authors say.

Sources and sinks of atmospheric aerosol particles. Credit: NOAA

Deep convective cloud (DCC) systems (thunderstorm-causing clouds) in the Amazonian tropics are major sources of precipitation, changes in atmospheric heat energy, and absorption of radiation from the sun. The formation of DCCs begins with the creation of droplets, in which atmospheric moisture condenses around airborne particles, such as human-made aerosols. However, the association between aerosols and climate patterns remain uncertain, and ultrafine aerosol particles (smaller than 50 nanometers in diameter) are thought to be too small to affect cloud formation.

The Department of Energy (DOE) Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) mobile facility site – T3. This material relates to a paper that appeared in the Jan. 26, 2018 issue of Science, published by AAAS. The paper, by J. Fan at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., and colleagues was titled, “Substantial convection and precipitation enhancements by ultrafine aerosol particles.” CREDIT Luiz Machado

Now, using observation and simulation-based data to analyze urban pollution effects on the Amazon rainforest, Jiwen Fan and colleagues showed condensation around ultrafine aerosol particles increased cloud formation and warmed the surrounding air, ultimately intensifying DCC systems. Before the particles intruded the DCC system, the rainforest’s naturally low-aerosol environment was low in condensation and highly water-saturated, the authors found.

When the ultrafine aerosols entered the basin, the supersaturated atmosphere condensed on the particles, leading to increased rain production, warm rain and supercooled cloud water. The authors suggest similar aerosol effects may be observed in other tropical regions with ample atmospheric moisture, highlighting the global importance of their results.


Climate campaigners who claim there is more severe weather due to climate change would be well advised to take note of this.


84 thoughts on “Even the Tiniest Aerosol Particles Can Kick Up a Storm

    • A hurricane is no longer started by a falling leaf. Now it is the tiniest aerosol particles. That’s the progress of science – of a settled science.

      • Don’t let this one get around – terrorists will be out destroying US cities with hurricanes – all they need is a handy can of Lysol – it’s practically the Hammer of Thor.
        Weapons of mass destruction right there under my own sink. Who knew?

    • The primary input is moisture. Without moisture in the atmosphere, pumping any amount of aerosols have no impact on cloud formation.

      Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

      • It’s part of how the desertification happens. Remove trees that provide the aerosols that provide the nuclei of cloud formation. Remove the clouds and one has decreased reflection of short wave radiation and more heating. Dubai is typically in the summer very humid and very high temperatures, with the rains/thunderstoms typically happening over the Gulf where there is nucleation. Engineering a cooling of this part of the world would require planting many trees that give off lots of nucleation material and the reducing of the herding of the goats that destroys trees and forests. Water Vapour is the major greenhouse gas and temperature regulator that through plant evolution has maintained a reasonably stable environment for itself.

  1. I think this makes a lot of sense and definitely needs to be investigated more (by actual scientists with no agenda please).
    Here in the US and in Europe, replacing coal with NG and intermittent wind and solar has to have reduced particulates along with changes in diesel emissions. This would (should) lead to fewer cloudy days. Then look at China and India blowing coal smoke everywhere and its impact. You wonder how this influences the tropical and semi-tropical western Pacific as it drifts out over the very warm water and leads to convective thunderstorms.
    This convection is part of the MJO and changes to it definitely impacts global weather, especially if the convection is maintained on one area longer than “normal”.
    I’m still waiting on a low solar volcano going off that will really mess up the warmist’s agenda. Talk about loading up the atmosphere with particulates.

    • I was thinking along similar lines. We “turned down” the aerosols in Europe and North America since the 1950s while China and India turned them up dramatically, especially in the last three decades. If this paper is true then that would seem to me to dramatically change weather patterns.

  2. Bet there is a whole lot more effect from the dust coming off Africa than from all human emissions …. but that doesn’t get any grants or perks ….

  3. One other generator of aerosols generally not mentioned: jet engines being operated in the flight levels. Every hour there our thousands of airliners flying across the globe spitting out primarily carbon particulates which impact cloud formation, primarily higher up holding temps up. (The 3 days after 9-11 when air traffic stopped caused an overall reduction in temps over the US).

    The engines have gotten much more efficient over the years, but the number of aircraft has increased tremendously. Current commercial traffic just in the US: https://flightaware.com/live/

    • When 911 forced the closing of airspace, the temperature of the USA went up 1 degree C, it did not drop. The cause has been clamed to be the elimination of condensation trails which reflect sunlight. In an investigation of the magnitude of the effect, a report, discussed on this forum at the time, showed a 1 degree rise due to higher insolation reaching the ground.

      The efficiency of modern engines is in part achieved by reducing the wasted of carbon in the fuel (Jet A is almost-kerosene). The particle production is down as a result. The water vapour remains unchanged on a per-kg of fuel basis, of course, but they burn fewer kg/km than they did 17 years ago.

      • There you have it gentlemen and women. To stop global warming in its tracks, all we need is MORE AIRPLANES. Preferably old Russian ones, spewing as much aerosols as possible. It may be the first global warming prevention scheme to actually make money.

        It would be interesting to track the growth of air travel against the pause in temperature rise. Maybe increased air travel is the reason for the lack of warming? Where’s my grant?

    • Exactly my reaction as I read the article, Mark. The claim “The science is settled,” has long been used as a club to silence those who disagree. It’s time to use, “I thought the science was settled,” to counter every breathless declaration that some new factor has been discovered that proves Global Warming and/or Climate Change are real and that we’re all gonna die 50 years from now.

  4. This is about as [i]exciting[/i] as [i]“ALERT: it has been found that [b]more[/b] yeast makes bread rise [b]faster[/b]”[/i], you know what I mean? After all – at least since the 1950s, it has been firmly established that cloud droplets require nuclei – of some sort – to start the droplet-growth process. Experiments with extraordinarily cleaned air and super-saturated water vapor at first will not grow fog droplets. However, impossible-to-stop cosmic ray atmospheric daughter-shower particle, streaming thru the chamber leave quite-visible streaks. Which then act as the condensation sites. The [i]“nuclei”[/i] in this case is ionization tracks, with millions of charged oxygen and nitrogen ions having had an electron or five kicked from them by the passing cosmic ray fragment.

    It has also been firmly established that the most wee puff of cigarette smoke – into the same chamber – will nucleate a wholesale fogging of the chamber in seconds. We know this. Its practically high school (well undergrad university) science.

    So that leaves the article as a pop-science buffoonery.
    Like … since we FORGOT our 1950s science … this must be new! Special! Unexpected! Horrors!

    Bah, humbug.

  5. So….the solution is to exterminate all those butterflies that are flapping their wings and kicking up those tiny particles?

  6. Lost interest at “simulation based data”. No such thing.
    And Amazon produces its own cloud nucleation stuff. Isoprenes from tropical plants. Same class that produces the ‘smoke’in the Great Smokey Mountains of Appalachia.

    • Bingo, as do all plants, all animals, all fungi, and all bacteria. What ‘terraformed’ Earth? Life. What part of life did the most of it? Unicellular life.

      • I actually got the full paper at that link, I’m not sure how, but it doesn’t do so now when I click on the link I just posted. I found it by searching Google for “Jiwen Fan aaas cloud ccn”

    • Yeah, making claims like “the Amazon is naturally low in aerosols” is classic climastrology.

      I just can’t decide which one is more believable, humans are causing the Amazon to have more droughts based on “state of the art climate models” (http://www.pnas.org/content/112/43/13172) or humans are causing more rain in the Amazon based on “simulation-based data.”

      The only thing that’s certain is that whatever happens is the result of unrepentant d-nyers, it’s going to harm your children in unprecedented ways, and it’s worse than we thought.

      [Higher pollen levels due to 22% more trees and plants? .mod]

      • I was going to point out the amount of bacteria, pollen and straight dust from natural sources. In this research https://www.livescience.com/14299-bacteria-create-rain-snow-hail.html, based on real observational science without models, a high level of bacteria seemed to have been the nucleators: “For minerals to form ice nuclei, water needs to be much colder than is usually found in clouds, Christner told LiveScience. Bacteria and other living particles that get swept up into the sky may serve as alternative nucleators.”

        They also point out that mineral dust needs the atmosphere to be much colder than bacteria for nucleation to take place.

    • Beat me to it! Data is not derived from models, it is collected in the field. The output of models are artifacts of analysis, a man made and tailored result that is dictated by the modeler.

    • Some days you can stand on east coast beaches of Florida and, looking East, see a hazy brown cloud out over the Atlantic Ocean. These brown clouds are giant dust blobs raised in North Africa by winds crossing over the Sahara desert. They don’t come from automobiles or trucks driving in the Bahamas. They are not man made. I have read, but don’t know if this is true or not, that the Amazon rain forest is fertilized by just such African dust, that much of the rain forest’s limiting phosphate nutrients arrive by this vector.

      These guys looked with satellites at the African dust, for which I respect them:

      • General wind direction is from west to east on both sides of the equator. More often, close to the equator are long periods of calm winds (the Horse Latitudes). Are you sure of the source of the dust?

      • It has long been known that the wind patterns in the North Atlantic follow a circular path starting from Southern Europe to the Caribbean and then back up the east coast of the US and then crossing the North Atlantic. In the days of sailing ships that was the route. So it isnt a stretch to think that the winds from Africa meet up with the sailing ship winds to bring the dust to the Americas. This is in fact exactly what happens. Many studies on this

  7. If particulates were the only factor in rain, maybe this would be viable. However, watching after massive forest fires, where tons of particulates are released, there does not seem to be any reliable increase in precipitation. Seems that many particulates should have an effect.

    • You need to have an atmosphere that’s saturated or nearly saturated with water vapor.
      That is usually not the case near forest fires.

  8. What if most of the global warming and climate change since say 1950 has been due to the change away from burning coal for heating homes and other buildings? What if global warming since say 1970 has been due to reduced smog due to catalytic converters in vehicles? What would happen to the CO2-paramiltary-industrial complex? Is it too big to fail?

    • We have no accurate data for the level and location of aerosols in the past.
      Heck, we probably don’t have adequate data for the here and now.

      This allows the climastrologists to plug whatever numbers they need into their models in order to get the models to say what they want.

  9. So, the RAINforest’s with “naturally” low aerosols are going to get increased precipitation if unnatural aerosols are introduced.

    • Volcan Baru – Panama – January 25, 2018

      Warmed by the day’s sun, the jungle exhales its moist breath, pulled toward the sky from its roots in the wet crevices of the volcano, creating streams of clouds in the cool soft breezes of the Caribbean trade winds.

      The guys doing this study were in a field far from any trees. I would bet money that the warm, moist trees are exhaling loads of aerosols. From our living room, we watch this happen every day. The streamers are tens of kilometers long. If you look close, you can see little tornados of mist rising from individual trees.

  10. I wonder how this study might inform the work done by Svensmark on cloud nucleation perhaps as a confounding factor.

    • A study like this seems to be good news for Svensmark. The argument goes that since the earth already has an overabundance of cloud condencing nuclei, the addition of cosmic rays shouldn’t produce more clouds. This study seems to indicate that more aerosols equal more clouds. (svensmark’s theory could use all the silver linings it can get)…

  11. As an aside, there is the old belief that cannon fire during warfare increased the likelihood of rain.

    • The green-squad are more into the slash and burn of whole industries that raised us out of agricultural poverty.

    • I don’t know about cannon fire, but I have noticed that a loud clap of thunder will shortly be followed by a downpour of rain, on ocassion. I always thought the sound waves must disturb the raindrops and make them fall.

  12. I’m not up on the recent literature, but there has been little progress pinning down the exact cause (s) of red tides. This may be because of the definite complications or failure to study all possibilities, some old. There certainly has been emphasis on the harmful aspect.

    This interesting paper suggests a possibility. Iron stimulates a (blue-green to us ancients) which produces the nitrogen necessary to stimulate the red tide.
    Walsh, J. J. And K. A. Steidinger. 2001. Saharan dust and Florida red tides: the cyanophyte connection. Journal of Geophysical. Research. 106(C6):11597-11612.

    Cannnons were also suggested to attract sharks because of the low frequency.

  13. Man, my plot to destroy the world just keeps getting easier. Besides my packed lunch, I’ll just throw in a can of Right Guard, or maybe even Aqua-net.
    Lex Luthor, get out of my way.

  14. Observation.
    About ten years ago following an unusually dry spell in Australis (Tim Flannery’s Permanent Drought) there was a massive dust storm. When I say massive I mean it. This thing affected most of NSW. Some weeks later the biggest rains in a decade arrived.
    I always wondered if there was any connection.

    • Exactly what I was thinking about the vast amount of dust blown up from the Sahara desert which every now and again turns U.K. silver cars into exciting shades of red, yellow or brown.

  15. Here is one tree in the forest that covers much of the northern hemisphere.
    Multiply by……what? a billion? then get back to me.

  16. Sheri
    January 26, 2018 at 10:16 am

    If particulates were the only factor in rain, maybe this would be viable. However, watching after massive forest fires, where tons of particulates are released, there does not seem to be any reliable increase in precipitation. Seems that many particulates should have an effect.

    Good point. Fires can and do produce clouds – clouds that have their own special name…

    2017/06/23 – PyroCumulus atop the Brian Head wildfire in southwest Utah – Geocolor

    More examples here:
    (cntrl+F on “pyro”)

    • Don’t firestorms produce their own clouds and thunderstorms? I seem to remember reading about such occurences after the Black Saturday firestorm here in Victoria (Australia) and also in California. I don’t have the references to hand though.

  17. The whole phenomenon of cloud formation deserves a great deal more study, particularly with respect to the thermodynamic aspects. Latent heat is released during condensation, and it has to go somewhere. Radiation is the only mechanism available, and it cannot be predominantly to the ground – the ground is warmer than the clouds almost everywhere. What measurements are available above the atmosphere for IR intensity above, say, newly forming hurricane clouds?

    • Michael, you are opening a real can of worms!! There are no apparent mechanisms for a water molecule to carry the amount of latent heat ‘released. The latent heat released on state change is the same whatever the ambient temperature. Yet although the satellites show a lot of infrared coming from clouds, many claim that is not the latent heat released on state change. So although all references talk of ‘release of latent heat’ no mechanism seems to be agreed, even though it is a fundamental part of the hydrologic cycle and the reason for storms and hurricanes.

      Perhaps someone here could enlighten us.

  18. Ian, latent heat is released as heat. Frequently you can see “cumulus” clouds – they are driven by air warmed by a sunny surface. Warm air rises and cools down adiabatically, until the temperature falls to dew point. Then the invisible water vapor begins to condense and create a cloud. It does not get warmer than before; it merely cools down much slower than adiabatically. That makes it lighter than surrounding air and the top of the cloud rises. Note that bottoms of clouds are flat and at the same elevation, the dew point level.

    • NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO Please no more modelling studies and then submitting it as if it was a valid scientific paper. I had to read further than I wanted to but being patient I found the following gem in the abstract of your link.

      “In the present study, we use idealized scenarios simulated by four global, fully coupled atmosphere-ocean-composition climate models to separate the climatic effects of aerosol emission mitigation from those of continued, moderate greenhouse gas-induced warming.”


      • Can I ask you Alan do you have any academic qualifications that bring you to your antipathy towards simulations?

        Do you have a specific criticism of the particular methodology in this paper (as opposed to a general bias against all modelling)?

        We could of course conduct an experiment on the actual atmosphere. but I suggest to you that we have done enough of that already.

      • We could of course conduct an experiment on the actual atmosphere. but I suggest to you that we have done enough of that already.

        Climate models suggest the same thing, the very same models that are always found to be in error.

  19. “When the ultrafine aerosols entered the basin, the supersaturated atmosphere condensed on the particles, leading to increased rain production, warm rain and supercooled cloud water.” OK, Is “supercooled cloud water” a new weather term?.

  20. I can vividly remember the violent storms we had over London and Pittsburgh in the 1940s. Gee they were spectacular.
    What a load of hogwash.

  21. My only qualifications were that I was a computer programmer before retirement. There has never been a piece of code written beyond a couple hundred lines without at least 1 bug. Even without bugs you are assuming that your code represents 100% accuracy as to the theory which in turn must represent 100% accuracy of the actuality. Then we get into measurement problems for the data and then deliberate data fraud compounded by changing of the reference points and further compounded by combining data sets from different measuring techniques from different eras. Add to that rounding errors and on top of that wholesale changes in the program when new theory becomes available which introduces more bugs in the code. Add to this the impossiblity of carrying out valid global field experiments on the data outside of your computer program because we are talking about a globe a bit less than 25000 miles in circumference at the equator and a bit less than that if measured at the poles. Add to that the incompetence of climate modellers in not understanding the difference between precision and accuracy. Again See Dr. Frank’s talk in the following:


    • Anthony should make this study a separate post so we can argue the effective merits of air pollution. I would guess that if you added up all the air pollution around the globe as of the end of 2017 versus 1980 I would say that there is even more now than in 1980 because if factory and transportation emissions prove an increase in CO2 i dont see how there can be less air pollution emitted because we have simply transferred it from North America and Europe to China. Therefore the conclusion of the study is invalid. I suggest they look to changes in the solar forcing as reasons for more brightness than before.

  22. Ion-aerosol-cloud processes in the lower atmosphere
    R. G. Harrison,
    K. S. Carslaw
    First published: 16 September 2003Full publication history
    DOI: 10.1029/2002RG000114 View/save citation
    Cited by (CrossRef): 129 articles Check for updates Citation tools
    “[9] The goal of this paper is to review the “state of the science” regarding atmospheric electrical processes and their effect on aerosol and cloud microphysical processes. We begin by reviewing our understanding of the basic physical processes involved in atmospheric electrification (section 1) and atmospheric ionization (section 2) through to aerosol electrification (section 3) and the effects of such electrification on aerosol physical processes. Such a didactic review is necessary because much of the literature on this subject appears to be largely unknown to practitioners of modern atmospheric aerosol science. Our summary of aerosol electrification studies is the first to be aimed at those interested in aerosol physical properties and aerosol-cloud interactions rather than the electrical properties of the atmosphere. We then summarize the studies that have suggested a link between the electrical state of the atmosphere and weather (section 4) and examine the magnitude of electrical effects in each case. Section 5 considers ion-aerosol-cloud processes on other planets in our solar system. We close by outlining what further studies are needed to advance the field, emphasizing the need to formulate hypotheses amenable either to physical experiments or numerical modeling (section 6.)”
    Magnetic and Electric Effects on Water
    Martin Chaplin
    Emeritus Professor of Applied Science
    London South Bank University
    “If electromagnetic effects do indeed influence the degree of structuring in water [1323], then it is clear that they may have an effect on health. The biological effects of microwaves, for example, have generally been analyzed in terms of their very small heating effects. However, it should be recognized that there might be significant non-thermal effects (for example, [714]) due to the imposed re-orientation of water at the surfaces of biomolecular structures such as membranes [356]. Similar effects on membranes have been proposed to occur due to magnetic [657] and electric fields [1086]. Additionally, as low-frequency, low-level alternating electric fields have been found to affect the electrical conductivity of pure water [358], the effects of living near power cables and microwave towers should, perhaps, not be thought harmless just because no theory for harm has been formally recognized. Even variations in the geomagnetic field may have some long-term exposure effects. [Back to Top to top of page]”

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