Clouds & Aerosols

Clouds and Aerosols

Smoke from African fires intermingles with clouds in this satellite image taken September 4, 2000. (Courtesy SeaWiFS, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and ORBIMAGE)

Aerosols and clouds play key roles in the Earth’s climate. Investigators at LASP study the production of aerosol particles and their lifetime in the atmosphere. Some of the major types of aerosols studied include:

  • Mineral dust from sandstorms and volcanoes
  • Sea spray from the oceans
  • Smoke from agricultural burning and forest fires
  • Sulfate aerosols from fossil fuel combustion, marine life and volcanoes

Cloud particles form from existing aerosols and remove aerosols from the atmosphere. Clouds particles serve as sites for interesting chemistry such as sulfur oxidation and activation of ozone-depleting chemicals. Clouds are also important for the regulation of the climate through their radiative properties and their control of water vapor, the most prevalent greenhouse gas within Earth’s atmosphere. LASP investigators study:

  • Polar stratospheric clouds
  • Cirrus clouds
  • Cumulonimbus clouds
  • Marine stratocumulus clouds

LASP investigators also examine potentially dramatic climate scenarios such as the effects of aerosols from small-scale nuclear conflict and proposals to engineer the atmosphere to counteract climate change.

Crossover with Airborne Science includes meteorological forecasts, aerosol forecasts, and flight planning for field campaigns. Crossover with Planetary Science includes the study of the atmospheres of Earth and various planets and satellites to improve our understanding of the formation and evolution of atmospheres on Venus, Earth, Mars and Titan.