Articles | Volume 14, issue 23
Research article
09 Dec 2014
Research article |  | 09 Dec 2014

Rare temperature histories and cirrus ice number density in a parcel and a one-dimensional model

D. M. Murphy

Abstract. A parcel and a one-dimensional model are used to investigate the temperature dependence of ice crystal number density. The number of ice crystals initially formed in a cold cirrus cloud is very sensitive to the nucleation mechanism and the detailed history of cooling rates during nucleation. A possible small spread in the homogeneous freezing threshold due to varying particle composition is identified as a sensitive nucleation parameter. In a parcel model, the slow growth rate of ice crystals at low temperatures inherently leads to a strong increase in ice number density at low temperatures. This temperature dependence is not observed. The model temperature dependence occurs for a wide range of assumptions and for either homogeneous or, less strongly, heterogeneous freezing. However, the parcel model also shows that random temperature fluctuations result in an extremely wide range of ice number densities. A one-dimensional model is used to show that the rare temperature trajectories resulting in the lowest number densities are disproportionately important. Low number density ice crystals sediment and influence a large volume of air. When such fall streaks are included, the ice number becomes less sensitive to the details of nucleation than it is in a parcel model. The one-dimensional simulations have a more realistic temperature dependence than the parcel mode. The one-dimensional model also produces layers with vertical dimensions of meters even if the temperature forcing has a much broader vertical wavelength. Unlike warm clouds, cirrus clouds are frequently surrounded by supersaturated air. Sedimentation through supersaturated air increases the importance of any process that produces small numbers of ice crystals. This paper emphasizes the relatively rare temperature trajectories that produce the fewest crystals. Other processes are heterogeneous nucleation, sedimentation from the very bottom of clouds, annealing of disordered to hexagonal ice, and entrainment.

Short summary
The properties of cirrus clouds depend on the rate at which air cools as the cloud forms. Small-scale motions in the atmosphere have high rates of cooling. This usually leads to very small ice crystals. However, a few random cooling fluctuations will produce only a few ice crystals. This paper shows that these events are important even if they are rare: they lead to particles that sediment and influence a lot of air. The results show dehydration is less sensitive to details of ice nucleation.
Final-revised paper