Extreme Ice Crystal Events Linked to Biomass and Fossil Fuel Combustion

Graciela B. Raga, Darrel Baumgardner, Blanca Rios, Yanet Díaz-Esteban, Alejandro Jaramillo, Martin Gallagher, Bastien Sauvage, Pawel Wolff, Gary Lloyd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Eight years of upper tropospheric (UT) ice crystal measurements with the Backscatter Cloud Probe (BCP), operated as part of the In-Service Aircraft for a Global Observing System (IAGOS), have been analyzed to assess the frequency and characteristics of extreme ice crystal events (EIE), defined in this study as encounters with clouds that have number concentrations exceeding 5000 L−1. A total of 6490 events, in clouds of horizontal extent ≥ 2.5 km, were identified during the period from December 2011 to March 2020 in the global band between 30° S and 30° N. Evaluation of in situ measurements of carbon monoxide in these UT clouds, combined with back-trajectories and carbon monoxide emission inventories, allow the identification of regional anthropogenic sources. An evaluation of low- and upper-level kinematic variables from the Modern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications, Version 2 (MERRA-2), combined with spatial distribution of aerosol optical depth and regions of biomass burning, reveal the physical mechanism by which the particles are lofted to flight levels in regions of deep convection. The maps of lightning frequency derived from the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN) contribute additional evidence of the role of deep convection lofting ice forming aerosols to the UT. The MERRA-2 analysis shows clear spatial correlations that link dust, black carbon (BC), organic carbon (OC) and sulfate particles with regions of EIE. Given the composition of the source aerosols and the nature of their transport to the UT, the ice clouds are likely of liquid origin whereby droplets formed on these particles are lofted and freeze heterogeneously as have been reported in previous studies. The results from this study have important ramifications related to climate change, satellite measurement validation, weather forecasting and aircraft operations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Publication statusSubmitted - 12 May 2021


  • Cirrus
  • Pollution
  • Aviation safety
  • High Ice Events
  • ice crystal nucleation


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