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UW’s Liu Receives DOE Grant to Improve Predictability of Interactions Between Mixed-Phase Clouds, Aerosols

July 20, 2018
man sitting at desk in front of computer
Xiaohong Liu, a professor in UW’s Department of Atmospheric Science and the Wyoming Excellence Chair in Climate Science, recently was awarded a $588,118 DOE grant to study how to improve the predictability of mixed-phase clouds and aerosol interactions at high latitudes. (UW Photo)

A University of Wyoming Excellence Chair has received a Department of Energy (DOE) grant to study how to improve the predictability of mixed-phase clouds and aerosol interactions at high latitudes.

Xiaohong Liu, a UW professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science and the Wyoming Excellence Chair in Climate Science, will receive a $588,118 DOE grant for his project, titled “Improving GCM Predictability of Mixed-Phase Clouds and Aerosol Interactions at High Latitudes with ARM Observations.”

The grant, announced earlier this month by the DOE’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research, begins Sept. 1 and runs through Aug. 31, 2021. The grant will fund one postdoctoral researcher and two Ph.D. students, Liu says.

As the project title suggests, Liu will look at improving the predictability of mixed-phase clouds and aerosol interaction at high latitudes. Mixed-phase clouds are a type of cloud in which both liquid droplets and ice crystals co-exist, Liu says. These clouds occur frequently in high latitudes and affect surface temperatures.

“High latitudes are warming at much faster rates than other regions on the globe,” Liu explains. “It is critical to understand the surface energy budget on which clouds play an important role at high latitudes.”

While important in the climate system, the understanding of mixed-phase clouds at high latitudes is still limited, he adds.

“Because of the dramatically different optical properties of liquid and ice particles for determining cloud radiative effect, it is critical to know the liquid and ice states in mixed-phase clouds,” Liu says. “Aerosol can affect cloud formation by serving as cloud condensational nuclei and ice nuclei. The low-level mixed-phase clouds tend to be brighter and long-lived if there are more aerosols, such as cloud condensational nuclei. However, the clouds will dissipate and precipitate if there are more aerosols as ice nuclei.”

Liu will seek to determine whether a Global Climate Model (GCM) can reasonably simulate the mixed-phase cloud properties as well as their differences between northern and southern high latitudes. If not, Liu wants to determine how the representations of ice nucleation and convective transport and scavenging of aerosols affect the simulations of aerosol and mixed-phase cloud properties through coupling with dynamics and radiation.

He also wants to determine what role seasonally varying aerosols play in the different mixed-phase cloud properties between northern and southern high latitudes.

The grant amount is “medium” based on previous research grants Liu says he has received. However, he adds, “Actually, this is a pretty high amount in our field for modeling projects and not involving field campaigns.”

Liu has received numerous awards and honors, including Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Exceptional Contribution Program Award and Outstanding Performance Award; the World Meteorological Society’s Young Scientist Award and its Mariolopoulos-Kanaginis Award (honorable mention) for papers in atmospheric environmental research; the Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at Fraunhofer Institute for Atmospheric Environmental Research, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany; and he was elected into the “100 Talent Program” of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Liu also currently heads up a research project where he uses the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) in Cheyenne. He leads a National Science Foundation-funded study that investigates the dust-climate interactions and the role of these interactions over the past century.

He edits the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, and the Journal of Meteorological Research. He has served as a guest professor at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, China, and Nanjing University in China, where he advises doctoral students.

For more information about Liu, visit his faculty website.


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