Confronting the challenge of modeling cloud and precipitation microphysics

Morrison H., van Lier‐Walqui M., Fridlind A.M., Grabowski W.W., Harrington J.Y., Hoose C., Korolev A., Kumjian M.R., Milbrandt J.A., Pawlowska H., Posselt D.J., Prat O.P., Reimel K.J., Shima S., van Diedenhoven B., and Xue L.

Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems

12(8), 2020, art. e2019MS001689, 10.1029/2019MS001689

In the atmosphere, microphysics ‐ the small‐scale processes affecting cloud and precipitation particles such as their growth by condensation, evaporation and melting ‐ is a critical part of Earth's weather and climate. Because it is impossible to simulate every cloud particle individually owing to their sheer number within even a small cloud, atmospheric models have to represent the evolution of particle populations statistically. There are critical gaps in knowledge of the microphysical processes that act on particles, especially for atmospheric ice particles because of their wide variety and intricacy of their shapes. The difficulty of representing cloud and precipitation particle populations and knowledge gaps in cloud processes both introduce important uncertainties into models that translate into uncertainty in weather forecasts and climate simulations, including climate change assessments. We discuss several specific challenges related to these problems. To improve how cloud and precipitation particle populations are represented, we advocate a “particle‐based” approach that addresses several limitations of traditional approaches and has recently gained traction as a tool for cloud modeling. Advances in observations, including laboratory studies, are argued to be essential for addressing gaps in knowledge of microphysical processes. We also advocate using statistical modeling tools to improve how these observations are used to constrain model microphysics. Finally, we discuss a hierarchical approach that combines the various pieces discussed in this article, providing a possible blueprint for accelerating progress in how microphysics is represented in cloud, weather, and climate models.