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Impact of surface and near-surface processes on ice crystal concentrations measured at mountain-top research stations

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Beck Alexander, Henneberger Jan, Fugal Jacob P., David Robert O., Lacher Larissa, Lohmann Ulrike,
Project Elucidating Ice Nucleation Mechanisms Relevant to the Atmosphere: Is deposition nucleation really immersion freezing in pores?
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Volume (Issue) 18(12)
Page(s) 8909 - 8927
Title of proceedings Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics
DOI 10.5194/acp-18-8909-2018

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


Abstract. In situ cloud observations at mountain-top research stations regularly measure ice crystal number concentrations (ICNCs) orders of magnitudes higher than expected from measurements of ice nucleating particle (INP) concentrations. Thus, several studies suggest that mountain-top in situ cloud microphysical measurements are influenced by surface processes, e.g., blowing snow, hoar frost or riming on snow-covered trees, rocks and the snow surface. This limits the relevance of such measurements for the study of microphysical properties and processes in free-floating clouds. This study assesses the impact of surface processes on in situ cloud observations at the Sonnblick Observatory in the Hohen Tauern region, Austria. Vertical profiles of ICNCs above a snow-covered surface were observed up to a height of 10 m. The ICNC decreases at least by a factor of 2 at 10 m if the ICNC at the surface is larger than 100 L−1. This decrease can be up to 1 order of magnitude during in-cloud conditions and reached its maximum of more than 2 orders of magnitudes when the station was not in cloud. For one case study, the ICNC for regular and irregular ice crystals showed a similar relative decrease with height. This suggests that either surface processes produce both irregular and regular ice crystals or other effects modify the ICNCs near the surface. Therefore, two near-surface processes are proposed to enrich ICNCs near the surface. Either sedimenting ice crystals are captured in a turbulent layer above the surface or the ICNC is enhanced in a convergence zone because the cloud is forced over a mountain. These two processes would also have an impact on ICNCs measured at mountain-top stations if the surrounding surface is not snow covered. Conclusively, this study strongly suggests that ICNCs measured at mountain-top stations are not representative of the properties of a cloud further away from the surface.