Small atmospheric particulates, known as aerosols, have the potential to modify the lifespan and intensity of thunderstorms and properties of lightning. This research project takes a climatological look at how urban aerosols influence thunderstorms at three distinct sites across the US: Washington DC, Kansas City and Salt Lake City. The researchers will assess how background climate and weather conditions shape variability in urban aerosol conditions and how this, in turn, affects the intensity of thunderstorms. The broader societal impacts of the award will be through the increased knowledge of high-impact urban weather. As a Facilitating Research at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions award, the project will also train the next generation of scientists by involving a significant number of undergraduates in the research itself.
The research team specifically proposes to characterize how urban and regional aerosol conditions vary within the larger context of environmental controls on thunderstorms, and how this in turn may amplify or dampen thunderstorm and lightning activity beyond what would be expected from a thermodynamic/wind shear perspective alone. Lightning, aerosol, air quality, and sounding data from 3 distinct urban areas across the United States would be analyzed to achieve the following objectives: 1) Quantify how aerosol concentration covaries with lightning production and atmospheric environments, 2) Assess geographic expression of threshold relationships between stability and lightning production, and 3) Compare urban thunderstorm environments obtained from synoptic-scale classifications with typologies derived from aerosols and local thermodynamics variables.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.