The formation of ice in a long-lived supercooled layer cloud

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Westbrook, C. D. ; Illingworth, A. J. (2013)

This article focuses on the characteristics of persistent thin single-layer mixed-phase clouds. We seek to answer two important questions: (i) how does ice continually nucleate and precipitate from these clouds, without the available ice nuclei becoming depleted? (ii) how do the supercooled liquid droplets persist in spite of the net flux of water vapour to the growing ice crystals? These questions are answered quantitatively using in situ and radar observations of a long-lived mixed-phase cloud layer over the Chilbolton Observatory.\ud \ud Doppler radar measurements show that the top 500 m of cloud (the top 250 m of which is mixed-phase, with ice virga beneath) is turbulent and well-mixed, and the liquid water content is adiabatic. This well-mixed layer is bounded above and below by stable layers. This inhibits entrainment of fresh ice nuclei into the cloud layer, yet our in situ and radar observations show that a steady flux of ≈100 m−2s−1 ice crystals fell from the cloud over the course of ∼1 day. Comparing this flux to the concentration of conventional ice nuclei expected to be present within the well-mixed layer, we find that these nuclei would be depleted within less than 1 h. We therefore argue that nucleation in these persistent supercooled clouds is strongly time-dependent in nature, with droplets freezing slowly over many hours, significantly longer than the few seconds residence time of an ice nucleus counter.\ud \ud Once nucleated, the ice crystals are observed to grow primarily by vapour deposition, because of the low liquid water path (21 g m−2) yet vapour-rich environment. Evidence for this comes from high differential reflectivity in the radar observations, and in situ imaging of the crystals. The flux of vapour from liquid to ice is quantified from in situ measurements, and we show that this modest flux (3.3 g m−2h−1) can be readily offset by slow radiative cooling of the layer to space.
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