College of Charleston Professor Co-Authors Paper on Clouds

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Physics professor Mike Larsen helped to discover a new shape of certain cloud droplet.

College of Charleston physics professor Mike Larsen and his colleagues at Michigan Technological University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have co-authored a research paper that looks at the cloud droplet sizes in marine stratocumulus clouds. The study has unveiled surprising findings that could significantly impact global climate modeling.

For years, scientists have assumed that cloud droplet size distributions in these clouds followed a broad gamma distribution pattern throughout their interior. However, Larsen’s research reveals a starkly different reality. Through observation and analysis, the team discovered that droplet size distributions are locally narrow, with pockets of the cloud having drop sizes that are very similar to each other.

The study finds that the commonly assumed broad gamma droplet size distributions only emerge when averaging over large volumes of the cloud. These findings challenge existing paradigms in atmospheric science and suggest a more nuanced understanding of cloud dynamics is likely necessary to accurately model these large clouds that significantly impact the earth’s radiation budget.

“The implications of this research extend beyond academia, potentially influencing climate policy and atmospheric science research agendas,” says Larsen. “By refining our understanding of cloud droplet size distributions, scientists may be better equipped to model and subsequently address climate change and its complex interplay with cloud dynamics.”

The research has been published in the prestigious journal Science.

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