Skip to Content
77 Mass Ave

Storm force

Aerosols may intensify thunderstorms in the tropics.

February 23, 2021
storm
storm
Pixabay

Scientists have known for decades that thunderstorms are often stronger where there are high concentrations of aerosolsairborne particles too small to see with the naked eye. Lightning flashes are more frequent along shipping routes, where freighters emit particulates into the air, than in the surrounding ocean. And the most intense thunderstorms in the tropics brew up over land, where aerosol levels are elevated by both natural and human-caused phenomena.

Now MIT scientists using idealized simulations of cloud dynamics have found that low-lying clouds with high aerosol concentrations are less likely to release water as rain. Instead, their water evaporates, creating a humid layer that makes it easier for air to rise quickly through the atmosphere as strong, storm-brewing updrafts.

“After you’ve established this humid layer relatively low in the atmosphere, you have a bubble of warm and moist air that can act as a seed for a thunderstorm,” says grad student Tristan Abbott, who coauthored a paper on the research with assistant professor of atmospheric science Tim Cronin. They say this “humidity-entrainment” mechanism, as they call it, could be incorporated into weather and climate models to help predict how a region’s thunderstorm activity might vary with changing aerosol levels.

“It’s possible that by cleaning up pollution, places might experience fewer storms,” says Cronin.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

The Steiner tree problem:  Connect a set of points with line segments of minimum total length.
The Steiner tree problem:  Connect a set of points with line segments of minimum total length.

The 50-year-old problem that eludes theoretical computer science

A solution to P vs NP could unlock countless computational problems—or keep them forever out of reach.

section of Rima Sharp captured by the LRO
section of Rima Sharp captured by the LRO

The moon didn’t die as early as we thought

Samples from China’s lunar lander could change everything we know about the moon’s volcanic record.

conceptual illustration of a heart with an arrow going in on one side and a cursor coming out on the other
conceptual illustration of a heart with an arrow going in on one side and a cursor coming out on the other

Forget dating apps: Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love

Fed up with apps, people looking for romance are finding inspiration on Twitter, TikTok—and even email newsletters.

ASML machine
ASML machine

Inside the machine that saved Moore’s Law

The Dutch firm ASML spent $9 billion and 17 years developing a way to keep making denser computer chips.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.