One critical new area of aerosol research involves how the varied particles impact clouds. Clouds play an important role in regulating Earth's climate, and without aerosols, clouds could not exist. The introduction of a larger number of aerosols will modify cloud's natural properties, leading to clouds that are bigger, brighter, and longer lasting. Two time lapsed scenes with zooms to particle-level conceptual animations help to illustrate this concept. In a pristine environment, like the ocean scene depicted here, naturally occurring salt particles serve as condensation nuclei for water vapor in the atmosphere. The water molecules are drawn to the salt particles like magnets, forming water droplets and eventually creating a cloud. The city scene reveals how an increase in the number of aerosols modifies the properties of a naturally formed cloud. The large influx of soot particles increases the number of centers of attraction for the water molecules, and the water droplets become smaller in size but greater in number.
This animation juxtaposes ocean clouds and city clouds. Both zoom to the particle-detail level to show the difference in aerosol particle number and back out to show that clouds over oceans are taller and darker than those over cities.