Detection of Asian dust in California orographic precipitation

Andrew P. Ault, Christopher R. Williams, Allen B. White, Paul J. Neiman, Jessie M. Creamean, Cassandra J. Gaston, F. Martin Ralph, Kimberly A. Prather

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Aerosols impact the microphysical properties of clouds by serving as cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) and ice nuclei (IN). By modifying cloud properties, aerosols have the potential to alter the location and intensity of precipitation, but determining the magnitude and reproducibility of aerosol-induced changes to precipitation remains a significant challenge to experimentalists and modelers. During the CalWater Early Start campaign (22 February to 11 March 2009), a uniquely comprehensive set of atmospheric chemistry, precipitation, and meteorological measurements were made during two extratropical cyclones. These two storms showed enhanced integrated water vapor concentrations and horizontal water vapor transports due to atmospheric river conditions and, together, produced 23% of the annual precipitation and 38% of the maximum snowpack at California's Central Sierra Snow Lab (CSSL). Precipitation measurements of insoluble residues showed very different chemistry occurring during the two storms with the first one showing mostly organic species from biomass burning, whereas the second storm showed a transition from biomass burning organics to the dominance of Asian dust. As shown herein, the dust was transported across the Pacific during the second storm and became incorporated into the colder high-altitude precipitating orographic clouds over the Sierra Nevada. The second storm produced 1.4 times as much precipitation and increased the snowpack by 1.6 times at CSSL relative to the first storm. As described in previous measurement and modeling studies, dust can effectively serve as ice nuclei, leading to increased riming rates and enhanced precipitation efficiency, which ultimately can contribute to differences in precipitation. Future modeling studies will help deconvolute the meteorological, microphysical, and aerosol factors leading to these differences and will use CalWater's meteorological and aerosol observations to constrain the model-based interpretations. The ultimate goal of such combined efforts is to use the results to improve aerosol-cloud impacts on precipitation in regional climate models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberD16205
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres
Issue number16
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Oceanography
  • Forestry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Palaeontology


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