Every Cloud

    The Challenge

    Map severe weather conditions with the presence of local atmospheric aerosols to identify potential connections!


    Airborne particles, or aerosols, float up to 50 km in the Earth’s atmospheric layers, from the Earth’s surface up to the stratosphere.  These particles can be natural—for example volcanic ash or sulfates generated from naturally released sulfur gases.  Aerosols can also be formed from human activities—for example, black carbon generated from burning of farm waste and clearing lands, and sulfates generated as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion.[1] 

    Atmospheric aerosols have many impacts, including serving as “seeds” for cloud formation.  Aerosol type and abundance, as well as environmental conditions determine variations in the types of clouds formed, and the impact on the climate.  For example, in certain conditions, an abundance of aerosols can enhance the life span of clouds, causing more severe rainfall, which can result in flooding.[2]   In other cases, adding aerosols to an environment already conducive to thunderstorm development can increase the likelihood of tornadoes![3]

    Your challenge is to map severe weather as well as various sources of atmospheric aerosols around the world, and identify potential patterns of connection between particles and environmental impact.  You can take your solution a step further and classify patterns based on the types and abundance of airborne particles, as well as pre-existing local weather patterns. 

    This challenge addresses the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly to engage all countries and all stakeholders in a collaborative partnership.  The SDGs aim to build a better future for all people by achieving sustainable development in three dimensions – economic, social, and environmental – in the spirit of strengthened global solidarity:

    • Goal 1.5:  By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters.
    • Goal 3.9: By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination. 
    • Goal 11.5: By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations.
    • Goal 13.1:  Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries


    • Consider various sources of aerosols in your study to identify if certain types of aerosols may be more frequently associated with severe weather events.
    • Are specific weather events more susceptible to influence by atmospheric aerosols?
    Remember that some aerosols can travel great distances from their points of origin.  Their effects on weather conditions may not be where the aerosol sources lie!  How can you show how far aerosols may be from their points of origin?

    [1] “Aerosols: Tiny Particles, Big Impact.”  Earth Observatory, National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  Website Accessed April 2017.  https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Aerosols/

    [2] Chakraborty, S., et. al.  “Relative influence of meteorological conditions and aerosols on the lifetime of mesoscale convective systems.”  Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.  2016.  113(27): 7426-7431.  

    [3] “The power of particles: Can smoke spark severe tornadoes?”  Earthdata: Powered by EOSDIS, National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  Website Accessed April 2017.  https://earthdata.nasa.gov/user-resources/sensing-our-planet/the-power-of-particles

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