A model for absorption of solar radiation by mineral dust within liquid cloud drops

Qing Zhang, Jonathan E. Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Models of light scattering and absorption that consider the effect of insoluble inclusions present within liquid cloud droplets may assume the inclusion occupies random locations within the droplet. In certain cases, external forces can lead to certain orientations or alignments that are strongly preferred. Within this modeling study, we consider one such case in which an insoluble mineral dust inclusion (ρ=2.6g/cm3) is placed within a liquid water drop (ρ=1.0g/cm3). Such an instance mimics mineral dust aerosols being incorporated within cloud drops in Earth's atmosphere. Model results suggest super-micron mineral dust settles to the bottom of cloud droplets. However, Brownian motion largely randomizes the position of sub-micron mineral dust within the droplet. The inherent organization of the particles that result has important consequences for light absorption by mineral dust when present within a cloud drop. Modeled results suggest light absorption efficiency may be enhanced by as much as 4-6 fold for an isolated droplet experiencing direct solar illumination at solar zenith angles of <20°. For such an isolated droplet, the absorption efficiency enhancement falls rapidly with increasing solar zenith angle indicating a strong angle of incidence dependence. We also consider the more common case of droplets that contain dust inclusions deep within optically dense clouds. Absorption efficiency enhancements for these locales follow a dramatically different pattern compared to the optically isolated droplet due to the presence of diffuse rather than direct solar irradiation. In such cases, light absorption efficiency is decreased through including super-micron dust within water droplets. The study has important implications for modeling the absorption of sunlight by mineral dust aerosol within liquid water clouds. The angle of incidence dependence also reveals that experimental measurement of light absorption for cases in which particle alignment occurs may not always accurately reflect atmospheric absorption of sunlight. Therefore, care must be taken to extrapolate measurement data to climate models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-128
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015


  • Cloud physics
  • Light absorption
  • Mineral dust aerosol
  • Saharan air layer


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