A new laboratory facility to study the interactions of aerosols, cloud droplets/ice crystals, and trace gases in a turbulent environment: The Π Chamber

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Will H Cantrell II1,2, Kelken Chang1, David Ciochetto1, Dennis Niedermeier1, Jim Bench3 and Raymond A Shaw1,2, (1)Michigan Technological University, Physics, Houghton, MI, United States, (2)Michigan Technological University, Atmospheric Sciences Program, Houghton, MI, United States, (3)Russells Technical Products, Holland, MI, United States
A detailed understanding of gas-aerosol-cloud interaction within the turbulent atmosphere is of prime importance for an accurate understanding of Earth’s climate system. As one example: While every cloud droplet began as an aerosol particle, not every aerosol particle becomes a cloud droplet. The particle to droplet transformation requires that the particle be exposed to some critical concentration of water vapor, which differs for different combinations of particle size and chemical composition. Similarly, the formation of ice particles in mixed phase clouds is also catalyzed by aerosol particles. Even in the simplest scenarios it is challenging to gain a full understanding of the aerosol activation and ice nucleation processes. At least two other factors contribute significantly to the complexity observed in the atmosphere. First, aerosols and cloud particles are not static entities, but are continuously interacting with their chemical environment, and therefore changing in their properties. Second, clouds are ubiquitously turbulent, so thermodynamic and compositional variables, such as water vapor or other trace gas concentrations, fluctuate in space and time. Indeed, the coupling between turbulence and microphysical processes is one of the major research challenges in cloud physics.

We have developed a multiphase, turbulent reaction chamber, (dubbed the Π Chamber, after the internal volume of 3.14 cubic meters) designed to address the problems outlined above. It is capable of pressures ranging from sea level to ~ 100 mbar, and can sustain temperatures of +40 to -55 ºC. We can independently control the temperatures on the surfaces of three heat transfer zones. This allows us to establish a temperature gradient between the floor and ceiling inducing Rayleigh-Benard convection and inducing a turbulent environment. Interior surfaces are electropolished stainless steel to facilitate cleaning before and after chemistry experiments. At present, supporting instrumentation includes a suite of aerosol generation and characterization techniques, a laser Doppler interferometer, and a holographic cloud particle imaging system.

We will present detailed specifications, an overview of the supporting instrumentation, and initial characterization experiments from the Π chamber.