Growth of respiratory droplets in cold and humid air

Chong Shen Ng, Kai Leong Chong, Rui Yang, Mogeng Li, Roberto Verzicco, Detlef Lohse*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)
82 Downloads (Pure)


The ambient conditions surrounding liquid droplets determine their growth or shrinkage. However, the precise fate of a liquid droplet expelled from a respiratory puff as dictated by its surroundings and the puff itself has not yet been fully quantified. From the view of airborne disease transmission, such as SARS-CoV-2, knowledge of such dependencies is critical. Here, we employ direct numerical simulations (DNS) of a turbulent respiratory vapor puff and account for the mass and temperature exchange with respiratory droplets and aerosols. In particular, we investigate how droplets respond to different ambient temperatures and relative humidity (RH) by tracking their Lagrangian statistics. We reveal and quantify that in cold and humid environments, as there the respiratory puff is supersaturated, expelled droplets can first experience significant growth, and only later followed by shrinkage, in contrast to the monotonic shrinkage of droplets as expected from the classical view by Wells in 1934. Indeed, cold and humid environments diminish the ability of air to hold water vapor, thus causing the respiratory vapor puff to supersaturate. Consequently, the supersaturated vapor field drives the growth of droplets that are caught and transported within the humid puff. To analytically predict the likelihood for droplet growth, we propose a model for the axial RH based on the assumption of a quasistationary jet. Our model correctly predicts supersaturated RH conditions and is in good quantitative agreement with our DNS. Our results culminate in a temperature-RH map that can be employed as an indicator for droplet growth or shrinkage.

Original languageEnglish
Article number054303
JournalPhysical review fluids
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'Growth of respiratory droplets in cold and humid air'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this