Though they be but little, they are fierce.
Airborne particles smaller than 50 nanometers across can intensify storms, particularly over relatively pristine regions such as the Amazon rainforest or the oceans, new research suggests. In a simulation, a plume of these tiny particles increased a storm’s intensity by as much as 50 percent.
Called ultrafine aerosols, the particles are found in everything from auto emissions to wildfire smoke to printer toner. These aerosols were thought to be too small to affect cloud formation. But the new work suggests they can play a role in the water cycle of the Amazon Basin — which, in turn, has a profound effect on the planet’s hydrologic cycle, researchers report in the Jan. 26 Science.
“I have studied aerosol interactions with storms for a decade,” says Jiwen Fan, an atmospheric scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., who led the new study. “This is the first time I’ve seen such a huge impact” from these minute aerosols.