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Unfolding the Secrets of Ice Formation to Better Understand Climate

An aerosol sampling stack and inlet tubes at the DOE’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program Site in Oklahoma for studying ice formation from aerosol particles.

STONY BROOK, NY, August 7, 2020 – Ice crystal formation plays a crucial role in precipitation formation and alters the radiative properties of clouds, thereby affecting Earth’s climate system. In recent years there has been tremendous progress in understanding how liquid-phase droplets are formed (nucleation), yet the nucleation of ice crystals has remained elusive. That’s why Daniel Knopf, PhD, Professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University, is studying the nucleation of ice crystals with the goal to improve current cloud and climate modeling approaches. The research is supported by a three-year $710,000 grant from the Department of Energy that starts September 15, 2020.

“Ice formation is considered one of the remaining grand challenges in the atmospheric sciences,” says Professor Knopf. “The objective of the project is to gain a predictive understanding of the chain that leads from aerosols to ice-nucleating particles to ice crystal number concentrations in clouds.”

Magnified ice crystal formed from an aerosol particle.

He hopes the results of the project will guide concrete improvements in the current cloud and climate modeling approaches to ice formation by advancing understanding of the coupling between detailed aerosol physicochemical properties and in-cloud ice crystal number concentrations. This understanding would ultimately result in better predictions of the climatic impact of ice crystal containing clouds.

The grant (DE-SC0021034) is part of a group of national awards under the DOE’s Atmospheric System Research program.

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