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Looking to the skies: How aerosols affect clouds

Climate change researchers are making progress each year in order to develop more accurate models to understand the changes that are taking place. An international group including researchers from the Advanced Institute for Computational Science (AICS) in Japan, have made progress using the powerful K computer. This has led to first accurate calculation of the effects of aerosols on clouds in a climate model.

The K computer is a supercomputer manufactured by Fujitsu, currently installed at the Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science campus in Kobe, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan. The K computer is based on a distributed memory architecture with over 80,000 compute nodes.

The researchers began studying aerosols because of the role they play in cloud formation. Aerosols provide the “seeds” (or cloud condensation nuclei) that enable clouds to form and different aerosols affect the life cycle of clouds. The action of aerosols is an key to research on climate change, since aerosols partially counteract the heating action of greenhouse gases.

Prior to the new research it was thought that increasing aerosol density would lead to more clouds. However, it is now known that,, because of temperature differences between the top and bottom layers of clouds, there is a more complex balance of evaporation and condensation. This means aerosols in the lower parts of the clouds promote cloud formation and aerosols in the upper parts allowing the water to evaporate.

By using the K computer, RIKEN-led researchers produced a model that simulates the complete global weather over a year, at a horizontal resolution of 14 kilometers. This produced an accurate simulation of how the aerosols behave within clouds. This led lead researcher Yosuke Sato from the Computational Climate Science Research Team at RIKEN AICS to state in a communication sent to Digital Journal: “It was very gratifying to see that we could use a powerful supercomputer to accurately model the microphysics of clouds, giving a more accurate picture of how clouds and aerosol behave in the real world. In the future, we hope to use even more powerful computers to allow climate models to have more certainty in climate prediction.”

The work will provide other scientists with a more accurate tool to understand climatic changes over time. The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications, under the title “Aerosol effects on cloud water amounts were successfully simulated by a global cloud-system resolving model.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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