Satellite-Based Insights into Precipitation Formation Processes in Continental and Maritime Convective Clouds

Daniel Rosenfeld, Itamar M. Lensky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

282 Scopus citations


Multispectral analyses of satellite images are used to calculate the evolution of the effective radius of convective cloud particles with temperature, and to infer from that information about precipitation forming processes in the clouds. Different microphysical processes are identified at different heights. From cloud base to top, the microphysical classification includes zones of diffusional droplet growth, coalescence droplet growth, rainout, mixed-phase precipitation, and glaciation. Not all zones need appear in a given cloud system. Application to maritime clouds shows, from base to top, zones of coalescence, rainout, a shallow mixed-phase region, and glaciation starting at -10°C or even warmer. In contrast, continental clouds have a deep diffusional growth zone above their bases, followed by coalescence and mixed- phase zones, and glaciation at -15° to -20°C. Highly continental clouds have a narrow or no coalescence zone, a deep mixed-phase zone, and glaciation occurring between -20° and -30°C. Limited aircraft validation for the satellite inferences over Israel, Thailand, and Indonesia is available. Substantial transformation in the microphysical and precipitation forming processes is observed by this method in convective clouds developing in air masses moving from the sea inland. These changes appear to be related to the modification of the maritime air mass as it moves inland and becomes more continental. Further transformations are observed in air masses moving into areas affected by biomass burning smoke or urban air pollution, such that coalescence, and thus precipitation, is suppressed even in deep tropical clouds. It follows that natural and anthropogenic aerosols can substantially modify clouds not only in pristine environments, as was already demonstrated by the ship tracks, but they can also incur profound impact on cloud microstructure and precipitation in more continental environments, leading to substantial weather modification in densely populated areas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2457-2476
Number of pages20
JournalBulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes


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