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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Jun 18;110(25):10106-10. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1222190110. Epub 2013 Jun 3.

Laser-induced plasma cloud interaction and ice multiplication under cirrus cloud conditions.

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  • 1Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, 76021 Karlsruhe, Germany.


Potential impacts of lightning-induced plasma on cloud ice formation and precipitation have been a subject of debate for decades. Here, we report on the interaction of laser-generated plasma channels with water and ice clouds observed in a large cloud simulation chamber. Under the conditions of a typical storm cloud, in which ice and supercooled water coexist, no direct influence of the plasma channels on ice formation or precipitation processes could be detected. Under conditions typical for thin cirrus ice clouds, however, the plasma channels induced a surprisingly strong effect of ice multiplication. Within a few minutes, the laser action led to a strong enhancement of the total ice particle number density in the chamber by up to a factor of 100, even though only a 10(-9) fraction of the chamber volume was exposed to the plasma channels. The newly formed ice particles quickly reduced the water vapor pressure to ice saturation, thereby increasing the cloud optical thickness by up to three orders of magnitude. A model relying on the complete vaporization of ice particles in the laser filament and the condensation of the resulting water vapor on plasma ions reproduces our experimental findings. This surprising effect might open new perspectives for remote sensing of water vapor and ice in the upper troposphere.


lightning; nonlinear optics; secondary ice

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