David Mitchell

Dr. David Mitchell: Professional Qualifications/CV

Dr. David Mitchell
Dr. David Mitchell

Title: Associate Research Professor
Division of Atmospheric Sciences
Reno, NV
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Keywords: cloud microphysics, cirrus clouds, cloud optical properties, remote sensing, climate engineering, global climate modeling, climate change, North American monsoon

Professional Interests

Dr. Mitchell's research has focused on the following areas: (1) theoretical understanding and modeling of the microphysical evolution within cirrus and frontal clouds, especially with regard to particle size spectra and crystal concentrations; (2) understanding and modeling the radiative properties of ice clouds; (3) remote sensing of cloud properties; (4) understanding and predicting the onset, strength and extent of the North American monsoon; (5) modification of cirrus clouds to reduce global warming.

Accomplishments regarding (1) include the development of two models successfully predicting the evolution of ice particle size spectra.  The input for one model consists of the ice water content and temperature profiles, while the other is driven by changes in super-saturation.  These models are computationally efficient, utilizing analytical solutions for ice particle growth by vapor diffusion and aggregation, and can be easily used to improve radar estimates of precipitation at ground level.

Regarding (2), the optical properties of ice clouds have been successfully described by parameterizing the absorption and scattering processes and rigorously treating their dependence on cloud microphysics.  This treatment, the Modified Anomalous Diffraction Approximation (MADA), was formulated in terms of the size distribution and ice particle shape, and agrees with explicit electrodynamic solutions of ice crystal single scattering properties within 15%.  These developments, along with parameterizing the asymmetry parameter for various crystal shapes, have lead to a new treatment of ice cloud radiative properties which is used in (i) the GCM and operational forecast model at the Hadley Centre/U.K. Meteorological Office, (ii) in the new NCAR GCM (CCSM4), (iii) in the Colorado State University GCM,  (iv) in the Regional Atmospheric Modeling System (RAMS) at CIRES and (v) in the Rapid Radiation Transfer Model (RRTM) and the Paleoclimate version of RRTM at Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER), Inc.

Regarding (3), a new method for estimating the amount of ice contained in clouds (i.e. the ice water path, or IWP) from satellite- or ground-based platforms has been developed, based on the heat emitted by the earth at discrete wavelengths in the infrared “window” region.  The method considers the details of the size distribution and ice particle shape.  In addition, two new satellite retrieval algorithms have been developed that estimate (1) the ice particle size distribution including the number concentration of small (D < 60 μm) ice crystals and (2) the percentage of liquid water relative to the total (ice + liquid) condensate in cold clouds.  Method (1) is of value due to the difficulty in measuring small ice crystal concentrations from aircraft (which help determine cirrus cloud optical properties) and method (2) is important since ice cloud optical properties strongly depend on the fraction of liquid water when present.  Both methods were the first to retrieve the indicated cloud properties.

Regarding (4), a new approach to understanding the Mexican monsoon has been pursued in terms of sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the eastern tropical Pacific and the Gulf of California. Results from six monsoon seasons show that relatively heavy rainfall in Arizona commences once the SST in the northern Gulf of California exceeds 29 oC.  Moreover, ten years of satellite altimeter observations of sea surface height in the eastern tropical Pacific indicate this threshold SST can be predicted 1-2 months in advance.  Together these relationships provide a potential means of predicting the Arizona onset of the North American monsoon 1-2 months in advance.

Regarding (5), it is generally accepted that the mean increase in global surface temperatures (relative to pre-industrial times) should not exceed 2°C if mankind is to avoid “unacceptable” consequences of climate change. Recent research has led some scientists to conclude that this threshold may be unavoidable unless some type of climate engineering is invoked to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and/or temporarily cool the planet (e.g. by reflecting more sunlight) while simultaneously very rapidly converting to non-carbon based energy systems.  A new type of climate engineering has been proposed, based on the aircraft seeding of the coldest cirrus clouds to reduce their global coverage, resulting in a global cooling effect.  This has some potential advantages over the most studied climate engineering approach; the injection of sulfur compounds into the stratosphere to reflect more sunlight.

Research Areas

  • Cloud Microphysics
  • Cloud Radiative Properties (especially ice clouds)
  • Remote Sensing of Cloud Physical Properties
  • Climate Dynamics
  • Large-Scale and Mesoscale Dynamic Meteorology
  • Precipitation Scavenging



Ph.D.. 1995 University of Nevada, Reno Atmospheric Science
M.S. 1986 University of Nevada, Reno Atmospheric Science
B.Sc. 1981 California Polytechnical State, University, San Luis Obispo Chemistry

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Selected Publications

Liu, X., Easter, R. C., Ghan, S. J., Zaveri, R., Rasch, P., Shi, X., Lamarque, J.-F., Gettelman, A., Morrison, H., Vitt, F., Conley, A., Park, S., Neale, R., Hannay, C., Ekman, A. M. L., Hess, P., Mahowald, N., Collins, W., Iacono, M. J., Bretherton, C. S., Flanner, M. G., and Mitchell, D., 2012: Toward a minimal representation of aerosols in climate models: description and evaluation in the Community Climate Model CAM5. Geosci. Model Development, 5, 709-739, doi:10.5194/gmd-5-709-2012.

Mitchell, D. L., S. Mishra, and R. P. Lawson, 2011: Representing the ice fall speed in climate models: Results from Tropical Composition, Cloud and Climate Coupling (TC4) and the Indirect and Semi-Direct Aerosol Campaign (ISDAC), J. Geophys. Res., 116, D00T03, doi:10.1029/2010JD015433.

Mitchell, D.L., R.P. Lawson, and B. Baker, 2011: Understanding effective diameter and its application to terrestrial radiation in ice clouds. Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 3417-3429, doi:10.5194/acp-11-3417-2011.

Mitchell, D. L., and R. P. d’Entremont, 2011: Satellite retrieval of the liquid water fraction in tropical clouds between -20° and -38°C. Atmos. Meas. Tech. Discuss., 4, 1-42, doi:10.5194/amtd-4-1-2011.

Morrison, H., Vitt, F., Conley, A., Park, S., Neale, R., Hannay, C., Ekman, A. M. L., Hess, P., Mahowald, N., Collins, W., Iacono, M. J., Bretherton, C. S., Flanner, M. G., and Mitchell, D., 2011: Toward a minimal representation of aerosol direct and indirect effects: model description and evaluation, Geosci. Model Dev. Discuss., 4, 3485-3598, doi:10.5194/gmdd-4-3485-2011.

Gettelman, A., X. Liu, S.J. Ghan, H. Morrison, S. Park, A.J. Conley, S.A. Klein, J. Boyle, D.L. Mitchell, and J.-L.F. Li, 2010: Global simulations of ice nucleation and ice supersaturation with an improved cloud scheme in the Community Atmosphere Model. J. Geophys. Res., 115, D18216, doi:10.1029/2009JD013797.

Lawson, R.P., E. Jensen, D.L. Mitchell, B. Baker, Q. Mo and B. Pilson, 2010: Microphysical and Radiative Properties of Tropical Clouds Investigated in TC4 and NAMMA. J. Geophys. Res., 115, D00J08, doi:10.1029/2009JD013017.

Mitchell, D.L., R.P. D'Entremont, and R.P. Lawson, 2010: Inferring Cirrus Size Distributions through Satellite Remote Sensing and Microphysical Databases. J. Atmos. Sci., 67, 1106-1125, doi:10.1175/2009JAS3150.1.

Mitchell, D.L. and W. Finnegan, 2009: Modification of cirrus clouds to reduce global warming. Environ. Res. Lett., 4, 045102 (8 pp), doi:10.1088/1748-9326/4/4/045102.

Mitchell, D.L., R.P. d’Entremont, and R.P. Lawson, 2009: Inferring cirrus size distributions through satellite remote sensing and microphysical databases. J. Atmos. Sci., 67, 1106-1125. doi:10.1175/2009JAS3150.1.

Mitchell, D.L., P.J. Rasch, D. Ivanova, G.M. McFarquhar, T. Nousiainen, 2008:
Impact of small ice crystal assumptions on ice sedimentation rates in cirrus clouds and GCM simulations. Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, doi:10.1029/2008GL033552.

Mishra, S., D.L. Mitchell, and D. DeSlover, 2008:
Ground based retrievals of small ice crystals and water phase in Arctic cirrus. American Institute of Physics (AIP), Proceedings of the International Radiation Symposium, Foz do Iguassu, Brazil, 3-8 August 2008.

Mitchell, D.L., and R.P. d’Entremont, 2008:
Satellite remote sensing of small ice crystal concentrations in cirrus clouds. American Institute of Physics (AIP), Proceedings of the International Radiation Symposium, Foz do Iguassu, Brazil, 3-8 August 2008.

Mitchell, D.L., A.J. Brown, W.P. Arnott, and C. Schmitt, 2006:
Testing and comparing the modified anomalous diffraction approximation. Accepted for publication in J. Atmos. Sci., 63, 2948-2962.

Mitchell, D.L., A. Huggins and V. Grubisic, 2006:
A new snow growth model with application to radar precipitation estimates. Atmos. Res., 82, 2-18.

Mitchell, D.L. and A.J. Heymsfield, 2005:
Refinements in the treatment of ice particle terminal velocities, highlighting aggregates. J. Atmos. Sci., 62, 1637-1644.

Mitchell, D.L., R.P. d'Entremont, D.H. DeSlover, and W.P. Arnott, 2003:
Multispectral thermal retrievals of size distribution shape, effective size, ice water path, optical depth and photon tunneling contribution. 12th Conf. on Satellite Meteorology and Oceanography, AMS Annual Meeting, Long Beach , California, 9-13 Feb. 2003.

Mitchell, D.L., 2002:
Effective diameter in radiation transfer: General definition, applications and limitations. J. Atmos. Sci., 59, 2330-2346.

Mitchell, D.L., D. Ivanova, R. Rabin, K. Redmond, and T.J. Brown, 2002:
Gulf of California sea surface temperatures and the North American monsoon: Mechanistic implications from observations. J. Climate, 15, 2261-2281.

Ivanova , D.C. , D.L. Mitchell, W. Patrick Arnott and M. Poellot, 2001:
A GCM parameterization for bimodal size spectra and ice mass removal rates in mid-latitude cirrus clouds. Atmos. Res., 59, 89-113.

Mitchell, D.L., 2000:
Parameterization of the Mie extinction and absorption coefficients for water clouds. J. Atmos. Sci., 57, 1311-1326.

Mitchell, D.L., 1996:
Use of mass- and area-dimensional power laws for determining precipitation particle terminal velocities. J. Atmos. Sci., 53, 1710-1723.

Mitchell, D.L., A. Macke, and Y. Liu, 1996:
Modeling cirrus clouds. Part II: Treatment of radiative properties. J. Atmos. Sci., 53, 2967-2988.

Mitchell, D.L., 1994:
A model predicting the evolution of ice particle size spectra and the radiative properties of cirrus clouds. Part I: Microphysics. J. Atmos. Sci., 51, 797-816.

Mitchell, D.L. and W.P. Arnott, 1994:
A model predicting the evolution of ice particle size spectra and the radiative properties of cirrus clouds. Part II: Dependence of absorption and extinction on ice crystal morphology. J. Atmos. Sci., 51, 817-832.

Book Reviews and Book Chapters

Mitchell, D. L., 2011: Book review of “Geo-engineering Climate Change: Environmental Necessity or Pandora’s Box?”, Brian Launder and J. Michael T. Thompson (Eds.), 2010, 332 pp., Cambridge Univ. Press, ISBN 978-0-521-19803-5. Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc., 92, 1503-1504.

Mitchell, D. L., S. Mishra and R. P. Lawson, 2011: Cirrus clouds and climate engineering: New findings on ice nucleation and theoretical basis. In: Planet Earth 2011 - Global Warming Challenges and Opportunities for Policy and Practice, Prof. Elias Carayannis (Ed.), ISBN 978-953-307-733-8, InTech, Available from

Conference papers, proceedings, and presentations

Mitchell, D.L., S. Mishra and R.P. Lawson, 2011: Modification of cirrus clouds to reduce global warming: New findings. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting, San Francisco, California, 5-9 December 2011.

Mitchell, D., 2011: Invited talk: Engineering of Cirrus Clouds to Reduce Global Warming. International Union of Geophysics and Geodesy (IUGG), Union session on climate engineering, 27 June - 8 July 2011, Melbourne, AU.

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