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Shear-induced electrical changes in the base of thin layer cloud

Harrison, G., Marlton, G., Aplin, K. L. and Nicoll, K. A. (2019) Shear-induced electrical changes in the base of thin layer cloud. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society. ISSN 1477-870X (In Press)

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Abstract/Summary

Charging of upper and lower horizontal boundaries of extensive layer clouds results from current flow in the global electric circuit. Layer-cloud charge accumulation has previously been considered a solely electrostatic phenomenon, but it does not occur in isolation from meteorological processes, which can transport charge. Thin layer clouds provide special circumstances for investigating this dynamical charge transport, as disruption at the cloud-top may reach the cloud base, observable from the surface. Here, a thin (~300 m) persistent layer-cloud with base at 300 m and strong wind shear at cloud-top was observed to generate strongly correlated fluctuations in cloud base height, optical thickness and surface electric Potential Gradient (PG) beneath. PG changes are identified to precede the cloud base fluctuations by 2 minutes, consistent with shear-induced cloud-top electrical changes followed by cloud base changes. These observations demonstrate, for the first time, dynamically driven modification of charge within a layer-cloud. Even in weakly charged layer-clouds, redistribution of charge will modify local electric fields within the cloud and the collisional behaviour of interacting charged cloud droplets. Local field intensification may also explain previously observed electrostatic discharges in warm clouds.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:86102
Uncontrolled Keywords:atmospheric electricity; stratiform cloud; Kelvin-Helmholtz billows; cloud microphysics
Publisher:Royal Meteorological Society

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