Smoking rain clouds over the Amazon

Science. 2004 Feb 27;303(5662):1337-42. doi: 10.1126/science.1092779.


Heavy smoke from forest fires in the Amazon was observed to reduce cloud droplet size and so delay the onset of precipitation from 1.5 kilometers above cloud base in pristine clouds to more than 5 kilometers in polluted clouds and more than 7 kilometers in pyro-clouds. Suppression of low-level rainout and aerosol washout allows transport of water and smoke to upper levels, where the clouds appear "smoking" as they detrain much of the pollution. Elevating the onset of precipitation allows invigoration of the updrafts, causing intense thunderstorms, large hail, and greater likelihood for overshooting cloud tops into the stratosphere. There, detrained pollutants and water vapor would have profound radiative impacts on the climate system. The invigorated storms release the latent heat higher in the atmosphere. This should substantially affect the regional and global circulation systems. Together, these processes affect the water cycle, the pollution burden of the atmosphere, and the dynamics of atmospheric circulation.