Cloud Cellular Communication

No, I’m not talking about the Internet or the latest mobile phone. Apparently clouds are “teleconnected”. Two press releases were made the yesterday on the same subject, both are presented here. Note to climate scientists, try adding this to GCM’s.

Open- and Closed-Cell Clouds over the Pacific Ocean

Honeycombulus: Marine stratocumulus clouds have open cells (sky in the middle) and closed cells (cloudy in the middle). Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, NASA

download large image (9 MB, JPEG) acquired April 17, 2010

NOAA scientists uncover oscillating patterns in clouds

Finding has implications for climate change

For all who have ever lain on their backs and gazed at clouds adrift in the blue: A new NOAA study has found that clouds “communicate” with each other, much like chirping crickets or flashing fireflies on a summer night. The study, published online in the journal Nature, also has significant implications for our understanding of climate change.

“Clouds organize in distinct patterns that are fingerprints of myriad physical processes,” Feingold explained. “Precipitation can generate fascinating honeycomb-like patterns that are clearly visible from satellites. Cloud fields organize in such a way that their components ‘communicate’ with one another and produce regular, periodic rainfall events.”

While the discovery of synchronized behavior in clouds is one of many recent findings on self-organization in nature, the study also examines how suspended particles, or aerosols, in the atmosphere can influence these patterns and be a factor in climate change.

The team, which also includes Ilan Koren of the Weizmann Institute, Hailong Wang of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Huiwen Xue of Peking University, and Alan Brewer of NOAA, used satellite imagery to identify cloud systems with a “cellular, almost honeycomb-like structure.” In such systems, thick clouds form the walls of the honeycomb, and cloud-free zones form the open cells between the walls. The team also observed that these cellular structures constantly rearrange themselves, with cloud walls dissolving and open cells forming in their place, while walls form where open cells once existed.

Open- and Closed-Cell Clouds over the Pacific Ocean

Wide view of magnified box view at top of article

Using computer models, the scientists reproduced this rearrangement or oscillation of the cloud honeycomb pattern, and identified the driving factor – rain. Next, they analyzed scanning laser measurements from a ship cruising under cloud systems to verify their model results.

“Together, these analyses demonstrated that the rearrangement is a result of precipitation, and that clouds belonging to this kind of system rain almost in unison,” Feingold said.

How does this synchronization come about? Falling rain cools the air as it descends. This creates downward air currents. These downdrafts hit the surface, flow outward and collide with each other, forming updrafts. The air flowing up creates new clouds in previously open sky as older clouds dissipate. Then the new clouds rain, and the oscillating pattern repeats itself.

“Once precipitation ensues and an open structure has formed, it is difficult to revert the cloud field to a closed-cell, or overcast state,” Feingold said. “Rain keeps the oscillating, open honeycomb pattern in motion, which allows more sun to reach Earth’s surface.”

The scientists say that their findings point to a significant influence of particulate matter, or aerosols, on the large-scale structure of clouds and therefore on climate change. Scientists have long known that aerosols can influence local rain formation and block solar energy from reaching the Earth’s surface—for an overall surface cooling effect.

However, until recently, the scientific community has not considered the self-organization that results from these effects. Computer simulations for this study indicate that high aerosol concentrations favor the formation of large, dense cloud fields with less open space and less rain. This creates a more reflective cloud pattern and cooling of the surface. Low particulate levels in computer models resulted in rain and the open honeycomb structure with an oscillating pattern. The open honeycomb structure in a large cloud field lets more sunlight reach the surface, and hence results in surface warming.

“Our work also suggests that we should expand our thinking about interactions between aerosols and clouds,” Feingold said. “Integrating our current focus on fundamental physical processes with broader studies on system dynamics could give us a more complete understanding of climate change.”

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NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us on Facebook.

On the Web: NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory: www.esrl.noaa.gov

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Rain contributes to cycling patterns of clouds

Researchers demonstrate how honeycomb clouds exhibit self-organization

RICHLAND, Wash. — Like shifting sand dunes, some clouds disappear in one place and reappear in another. New work this week in Nature shows why: Rain causes air to move vertically, which breaks down and builds up cloud walls. The air movement forms patterns in low clouds that remain cohesive structures even while appearing to shift about the sky, due to a principle called self-organization.

These clouds, called open-cell clouds that look like honeycombs, cover much of the open ocean. Understanding how their patterns evolve will eventually help scientists build better models for predicting climate change. This is the first time researchers have shown the patterns cycle regularly and why.

“The pattern of the clouds affects how much of the sun’s energy gets reflected back into space,” said atmospheric scientist Hailong Wang of the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a coauthor on the study led by physicist Graham Feingold at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“We’ve teased out the fundamental reasons why the open-cell clouds oscillate. Being able to simulate these clouds in computer models, we gain more insights into the physics behind the phenomenon. This will help us to better interpret measurements in the real atmosphere and represent these clouds in climate models,” Wang said.

In addition, this is the first time researchers have shown that open-cell clouds follow the principles of self-organizing systems — they spontaneously form dynamic, coherent structures that tend to repair themselves and resist change. Such clouds join other self-organizing networks such as flocks of birds, shifting sand dunes or bubbles in boiling water.

Convection Imperfection

Open-cell clouds are low, flat clouds that look like a quilt to someone looking down from an airplane. The quilt patches are frames of cloud that are clear in the middle, similar to a honeycomb. These honeycomb clouds develop from atmospheric convection, which is air movement caused by warm air rising and cold air falling.

The white parts of the honeycomb clouds reflect sunshine back into space, but the open spaces let energy through to warm up the planet. Because these clouds cover a lot of the ocean, climate scientists need to incorporate the clouds into computer models.

The simplest explanation for their appearance is what is known as Rayleigh-Benard convection. This classic form of convection can be seen between two horizontal, flat plates separated by a thin liquid layer: Heat up the bottom and warm liquid rises, pushing cold liquid near the top downward. The updrafts and downdrafts mold the liquid into vertical walls. If the bottom heats uniformly, the flow causes the top surface to break up into hexagonal cells, looking like a honeycomb. A honeycomb structure, it turns out, is one of the most effective way to transfer heat.

This occurs on a large scale in our atmosphere from the surface up to a couple kilometers (less than two miles). But the earth’s ocean is not a uniform surface and it doesn’t warm the atmosphere evenly from below. That’s one reason why open-cell clouds do not organize into perfect hexagons.

Also, the atmosphere is much more complex than a laboratory experiment. Other factors interfere with this type of convection such as aerosols, tiny particles of dirt around which cloud drops form. The number of aerosols determines the size of cloud drops and whether to form rain. To test the role of aerosols and rain, the international team led by Feingold at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., used computer simulations and satellite images to explore how open-cell clouds develop and oscillate.

Shifting Showers

First, the team started with a computer model called the Weather Research and Forecasting model, which a team of scientists developed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. and NOAA. Wang and others improved upon it to study interactions of aerosols and low clouds.

For this study, they simulated fields of honeycomb clouds sitting below one kilometer (about 3/4 of a mile) over the ocean, where they are known as marine stratocumulus clouds. The team fed the clouds with just enough aerosols to produce rain and create the expected honeycomb shapes.

Though the open-cell clouds always looked like a honeycomb, the individual cells deformed and reformed over a couple hours. To determine why they changed in this way, the team took the open-cell clouds and examined air flow and rain along the cell walls.

Strong updrafts coincided with the presence of the thick vertical walls, the scientists found. Over time, however, these regions accumulated enough water to rain, which caused downdrafts. When adjacent downdrafts approached the ocean surface, they flowed outward and collided — air converged and formed new updrafts. The air in the downdrafts cooled off initially by evaporation of raindrops, but warmed up again near the ocean, starting the updraft cycle again but shifted over in space.

This cycling of falling rain, downdrafts and updrafts caused cloud walls and their cells to disappear but reappear somewhere else in the field. The honeycomb-structure of the clouds remained, but cells shifted in space. The authors call these shifts oscillations in open cells.

The Real World

The team then looked at satellite images of real clouds. They used pictures of cloud fields at different times and corrected for them being blown about by wind flowing horizontally. Over time, they saw bright white spaces replaced by dark empty ones, and again replaced by bright whiteness. The team’s computer model had replicated these oscillating light-dark cycles.

Wind and rain measurements also supported the simulation. Instruments on a ship on the ocean measured wind up to one kilometer high. The data showed outflows from rain in different parts of the sky collide at the ocean surface and flow back up. Instruments that measured precipitation showed periodic rainfall that coincided with the shifting cloud pattern.

Taken together, the set of experiments showed that rain causes open-cell clouds to form spontaneously, oscillate in the sky and resist change in the overall pattern. These are three characteristics of complex systems that self-organize and form a cell structure, such as flocks of birds or bubbles on a boiling surface.

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Reference: Graham Feingold, Ilan Koren, Hailong Wang, Huiwen Xue, and Wm. Alan Brewer, Precipitation-generated oscillations in open cellular cloud fields, Nature, August 12, 2010. DOI 10.1038/nature09314 (http://www.nature.com/nature/index.html).

This work was supported by NOAA, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and PNNL.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is a Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory where interdisciplinary teams advance science and technology and deliver solutions to America’s most intractable problems in energy, national security and the environment. PNNL employs 4,700 staff, has an annual budget of nearly $1.1 billion, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since the lab’s inception in 1965. Follow PNNL on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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78 Responses to Cloud Cellular Communication

  1. marchesarosa says:

    “Finding has implications for climate change”

    It seems it has become impossible for some to use the world “climate” without also tagging on the word “change”.

    I would happily concede that research such of this may be of use in understanding the weather and maybe the climate. But “climatechange”? Maybe not.

  2. Patrick Davis says:

    I cringe everytime I read “computer models” and “climate change”.

    And…

    http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/weather-blocker–jet-stream-stops-and-causes-disasters-20100812-120th.html

    “Climate change has been cited as one possibility, but scientist Gerald Meehl of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado told the New Scientist magazine there was no way to test the theory, as the resolution in climate change models was too low to replicate weather patterns such as blocking events.”

    Resolution in computer models too low to replicate this particular weather event. What about other events?

  3. mrpkw says:

    “NOAA study has found that clouds “communicate” with each other”????????????

    Sheesh !!!!!

  4. Michael Schaefer says:

    The gaseous remnants of my digestion also have implications for climate change – especially so after a good dinner of Chili con Carne, taken with lots of Corona beer…

  5. wsbriggs says:

    As a former frequent flyer, I was always fascinated by the highly visible oscillatory patterns in the clouds below. Some were clearly a result of wind over the mountains, some looked like drag effects off the ground, and the cells discussed in the paper above provided interesting patterns as well. It’s nice to know someone actually can explain the phenomenon.

    Somewhat off topic, but atmospheric as well (sort of) I discovered that on a DC 9 wing, under certain circumstances of sun position and flight angle, one could see a visible Schlieren effect where the density change in the air over the wing allowed the interference pattern to become visible. It would move back and forth about a 6″ span from the center of the wing area toward the leading edge and then back toward the trailing edge. It appeared to run almost the entire length of the wing. None of the planes with supercritical wings that I flew exhibited the same phenomenon. I was luck enough to have seen this at least six times. I was able to point it out to a flight attendant on one flight. She had never seen it before, but said she didn’t spend a lot of time looking out the windows either. /OT

    Love the science on the site. Keep up the good work!

  6. Gnomish says:

    And when that rain falls, it radiates to space the heat of vaporization which is over 50,000 times the heat capacity of CO2 in the same volume of atmosphere.
    It also changes volume, from a liter to a few teaspoons which drops the pressure, lifting more moist air.
    All day, every day, the hadley heat pump never stops.

  7. Brian Johnson uk says:

    Similar looking patterns occur in my bathwater, but then it’sl a question of Reynolds numbers isn’t it?

  8. Dave L says:

    We make an observation but we don’t know how to explain the science so that we can develop a hypothesis or theory. But never fear, we can devise computer simulations and discover the answers. Something is missing here I fear.

    Just as Lindzen said:
    “In brief, we have the new paradigm where simulation and programs have replaced theory and observation, … “

  9. Henry chance says:

    How does this synchronization come about? Falling rain cools the air as it descends. This creates downward air currents. These downdrafts hit the surface, flow outward and collide with each other, forming updrafts. The air flowing up creates new clouds in previously open sky as older clouds dissipate. Then the new clouds rain, and the oscillating pattern repeats itself.

    Falling rain cools the air as it goes down? Actually the “falling” is the heavier higher density air that by reason of it already being cooler causes condensation known as rain.

    The “updraft” is not from collision. It is from lighter hot air which weighs less going upward. The turbulencs is from wind headed in two directions clashing. Some is going up and some is going down. I have sailed and raced since the 60’s. We learned to read this stuff long before these guys created models. I race with several aeronautical engineers. We learn from wind tunnels and other laboratories like test tanks.

    I will say this that when the surface temps go up, the hot air wants to rise and the AGW models imply that the hot air remains low and blankets the earth.
    What I just said explains why we understand wind gliding and learn how to find thermals for lift.

    http://www.hobiehawk.com/default.htm

    A no motor RC glider.

  10. Oldshedite says:

    Following on from Patrick davies above – this “other event” in Russia is unsuprisingly being used by New Scientist (sic) as a link to Global warming. – check it out

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19304-is-climate-change-burning-russia.html?page=2

    Just sooo contradictory

  11. foley hund says:

    …and when the clouds are angry, one can observe their communicating thunderous fire, and devastating wind.

    …but why go outside to observe, when a computer model will suffice?

  12. phlogiston says:

    This fits in very nicely with the nonequilibrium dynamics of atmospheric transport of heat and water. Compelling and retrospectively obvious.

    All the ingredients are there for nonequilibrium nonlinear pattern dynamics (NNPD): (a) a system of heat, convective and water vapour flux far from equilibrium, (b) friction (or damping or dissipation) from fluid friction and energy requirement for water condensation, (c) the inter-cloud responsiveness via adiabatic rain cooling of air and consequent convection, qualify the system as a “reactive medium” (term coined by Matthias Bertram in the context of chemical NNPD systems) which will sustain the establishment of emergent nonlinear pattern.

    The pattern types described are also classics from chemical NNPD and turbulence – a blend of chaotic cellular structures with labyrinthine and dendritic patterns.

    When the authors describe these NNPD structures as “coherent structures that tend to repair themselves and resist change” what they are alluding to is Lyapunov stability, a mathematic formulation of the development of NNPD attractor-structures which establishes their fundamental robustness and stability. Lyapunov stability in terms of clouds makes cloud weather systems more stable than they might otherwise be. This is probably why one can often look out of the window in the morning and get a pretty good idea what the day’s weather holds in store.

    What implications does this have for understanding and modeling climate and for AGW? “The stone that the builders rejected becomes the cornerstone”. It is no longer possible to simply bolt onto climate models some arithmetic conditions for cloud formation in conjunction with convection, and imagine that you have “done clouds”. By exhibiting NNPD behaviour with Lyapunov stability, clouds move toward being independent entities in the climate system.

    NNPD behaviour is not something that can be bolted onto linear GC models. A more fundamental reassesssment is needed, perhaps along the lines of the “Constructal law” described by Willis Eschenbach, emphasising attraction to a stable state and resistance to change. Why for instance does a plot of global mean estimated temperatures appear to flip (on a 100 Myr scale) between only two values, 12 and 22 degrees C?

  13. juanslayton says:

    “NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources.”

    The claim that they understand has been reduced to a mission to understand! Now that’s progress.

  14. Archonix says:

    You see similar patterns forming in oil if you leave it heating in a pan. In the oil the patterns are caused by warmer oil convecting. The self-organisation of nature is really quite remarkable, as is the way it repeats fractally. As above, so below, the Hermetics say; perhaps they were on to something.

  15. Tommy says:

    Computer simulations for this study indicate that high aerosol concentrations favor the formation of large, dense cloud fields with less open space and less rain. This creates a more reflective cloud pattern and cooling of the surface.

    So dirty air helps cool the world.

    Low particulate levels in computer models resulted in rain and the open honeycomb structure with an oscillating pattern. The open honeycomb structure in a large cloud field lets more sunlight reach the surface, and hence results in surface warming.

    So lack of dirty air helps warm the world.

    Now, if we accept that GW is bad for the world, and AGW is the culprit, then we now have a solution: AGC (anthropomorphic global cooling).

    How can we do this? By making more dirty air! But… people don’t like dirty air. No problem! A law could be made that any community that has a clean-air power plant must buy dirt credits from communities that have dirty-air power plants. This could be handled by a particle trading exchange system.

    We could also put some sort of catalytic contraption on electric cars so that they generate dirty-air.

    We could also build smokestacks on mountains that un-sequester dirt to high altitudes.

    And I remember some design of unmanned fleets of ships that spray water to cool the world. They could power these ships with dirty-air-producing engines.

  16. deadite says:

    omygod! whatasurprise!

    Any good heat transfer engineering major has known this for a long time. It was discussed in my master’s level natural convection class.

    I had a good discussion with my former engineering professor recently. He is nearing retirement, but being the exacting analyst and math wiz, he has been going back to look at the GW problem, and has found multiple issues, including issues with how water vapor is treated. He told me that many of the computer models use a simple analytical result for water vapor transport that is only applicable in very narrow circumstances, and that they treat the issue generally incorrectly. Suffice to say, he is becoming the bete noir of his campus. A heretic. He rather enjoys it, I think. The above result would not surprise him.

  17. dp says:

    You can see these same patterns in many natural phenomena. If you’ve watched the gouts of oil pluming into the Gulf you’ve seen this. Clouds of ash from Mt. St. Helens or the recent eruptions in Iceland provide these patterns. I suspect any time you can observe the boundary of a thin but visually dense fluid in the presence of a similarly thin but transparent fluid (ash or rain clouds in a clear sky, oil boiling out of a pipe into the sea) you will see this. You even see it in deep space as evidenced by the images of the recent explosion of Eta Carinae (http://whyfiles.org/017planet/gas_cloud2.html). It suggests there is a rule set that defines degrees of roiling of dissimilar fluids. How that might be more significant to climate than it is to any other thing I don’t know.

    The symmetry of Eta Carinae is an excellent example – the above article implies the billows of matter at both ends of this massive explosion are responding somehow to communication across the vacuum of space perhaps like square dancers respond to a caller with a fiddle. Very imaginative. I think I’ll spend less time on communicating clouds and more time thinking about energy, velocities, pressure gradients, and viscosity.

  18. phlogiston says:

    p.s.

    Constructal law was by Bejan, and described and explained on WUWT by Willis Eschenbach.

  19. Douglas DC says:

    Battelle NW -I used to fly on contract for them -I wonder if this isn’t slow crawl down
    off the AGW pile. What I get in my quick perusal:”We have no idea what’s happening.”

  20. Kevin G says:

    Henry chance,

    Actually falling rain cools the air as it falls in a couple of ways: 1. if it falls into a drier layer, some rain drops will evaporate, cooling the ambient air; 2. drag created by the falling rain drops will help pull cooler air down. In extreme cases (thunderstorms), these processes can cause cool outflow, good gust fronts, downbursts etc. which leads to your second misconception…the updrafts in this case is caused by collision, or a better term, convergence. It is not often that just having warm, buoyant air is enough to create an updraft on its own (sure you can have turbulent mixing until the warm air ascends to a point where is has cooled and is no longer buoyant, this doesn’t mean you have clouds or an “updraft”…you might get away with the term “thermals”)…but more often you need to have a lifting mechanism to develop and sustain an updraft, whether by convergence, boundaries, etc.

  21. CalMike says:

    Take a cup of nice hot coffee. Gently add a little cold cream (do not stir). Let sit under a gentle ceiling fan. In short order, a similar honeycomb pattern developes. I don’t know if the shape of the cup matters much, but my usual cup is very cylindrical.

    Mike

  22. Severian says:

    They talk about aerosols having a cooling impact with this, what about the effect of galactic cosmic rays on cloud formation ala Svensmark et al?

  23. apl says:

    >the scientists reproduced this rearrangement or oscillation of the cloud honeycomb pattern, and identified the driving factor – rain

    I know it. Rain causes clouds!

  24. apl says:

    c / know / knew

  25. amicus curiae says:

    Computer simulations for this study indicate that high aerosol concentrations favor the formation of large, dense cloud fields with less open space and less rain.
    —————-
    so? the mongrels chemtrailing are NOT helping , Project Orange was outed recently
    http://www.cotocrew.wordpress.com
    what place does barium aluminium and a slew of other toxic goop have in our atmosphere?
    and what self given mandate? are they acting under? for whos best interest..not ours I feel

  26. kwik says:

    “NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict…”

    As long as Lubchenko is in charge, I dont trust information from NOAA.

  27. Zeke the Sneak says:

    “The team fed the clouds with just enough aerosols to produce rain and create the expected honeycomb shapes.”

    That is interesting that they determined that the rain was the driving factor, and then in the model they added just the right amount of aerosols to produce the rain. I wonder what the aerosols were, what their source was, and why they came in such discrete amounts in the model.

    And another question I have is if the honeycomb shapes form and oscillate within about 2 hours, how fast does the supposed updraft have to be to create these walls within the clouds? won’t the updraft change and vary with time of day and surface temperature, so that the continuous oscillations would be more chaotic? Do these cloud patterns happen at night?

    One more question. It says they used the measurement from “a ship.”

    “Wind and rain measurements also supported the simulation. Instruments on a ship on the ocean measured wind up to one kilometer high.”

    I hope there are plans to use measurements from a few more “ships.” No one would want to create a computer model, and then confirm it with wind and rain measurements from just one ship.

  28. H.R. says:

    “[...] Cloud fields organize in such a way that their components ‘communicate’ with one another and produce regular, periodic rainfall events.” [...]”

    ============================

    Kinda’ like how molecules “communicate” with one another as they form crystals. (Yeah, right.).

    I’m sorry, but there are physical processes that produce the various patterns that don’t require “communication.”

    On a lighter note:
    As they say, everbody talks about the weather………. but now we find out that the weather talks. ( And for the paranoid out there, maybe it’s talking about you.)

  29. p.solar says:

    Computer simulations for this study indicate that high aerosol concentrations favor the formation of large, dense cloud fields with less open space and less rain. This creates a more reflective cloud pattern and cooling of the surface.

    So much of the 30 year warming at end of 20th c. could be accounted for by cleaning up our environmental emissions rather than arbitrary “climate sensitivity” fiddle factors.

    Now they need to apply the same logic to cosmic radiation and cloud formation and they may find Henrick Svensmark’s work useful.

  30. Jeremy says:

    Missing from that article: A discussion of how much heat the earth returns to space in this fashion.

  31. Anthony, here are videos of what my photographs could not convey – a local murmuration of starlings – one that maybe inspired Lewis Carroll and has an excellent commentary – and here’s starlings in Rome (where all roads lead). This looks like true “teleconnection” to me, not the dendro suspect stuff, nor the cloud stuff here that I can understand in terms of standing waves.

    Notice the difference between English and Italian temperaments too. Note that though Dylan may only see his birds in winter twilights, here we see them at all times of the day in winter, February especially.

  32. Richard M says:

    I looked this over and saw no mention of the Sun. Perhaps the sun heating the cloudless areas might just have some impact too? Nah, must be CO2.

  33. Jean says:

    At least they kept the gratuitous climate change comment to the last sentence, so we can ignore it and not disrupt the actual material they are presenting.

  34. Mark Sokacic says:

    i’ve always been curious as to why clouds cluster as they do. If anyone drinks miso, you can see the convection currents moving quite nicely within the miso particulates once you pour boiling water into the mixture, especially nice if you pour into a clear glass. The patterns move randomly but you can see honeycomb type cells form periodically. I’ve always thought of my glass of miso as my personal 20 cent 3d climate simulator, now if i can just reduce the temperature bias by about 50 degrees c to model more accurately the fluid dynamics that are occurring above my head….

  35. Pamela Gray says:

    ummmm. Is it just me or did they discover something that is on page 4 of my 6th grade science supplementary text I use in class? I think the main point here is that they discovered how to model it, but most of us weather nerds and certainly meteorologists already knew the mechanics of what I call popcorn clouds and the down/up drafts associated with them. I am also guessing that while the event takes place, there is net cooling at the surface. This cloud event happened yesterday in NE Oregon’s Wallowa County over the Northern hills section (lots of dry land farming and CRP tracks). I was there and watched it happen, including feeling the warm air turn cool while the event took place. Eventually, the system behind it built the clouds up to colliding thunderheads and I headed for home. This morning I noticed that NOAA changed the forecasts for the rest of the week to cooler temperatures. So much for the open cells warming the surface. My opinion? This event is more than likely a net cooling weather pattern.

  36. DirkH says:

    Okay, somebody’s got to mention it so here comes: cloud droplets can also be electrically charged which would modify their dynamic interaction further. Friction can charge them up, obviously up to the point we see lightning occur. Have fun modeling that, modelers. I can see the code comments…

    // TODO 138 : add electrostatic effects here

  37. rbateman says:

    Gnomish says:
    August 12, 2010 at 6:42 am
    And when that rain falls, it radiates to space the heat of vaporization which is over 50,000 times the heat capacity of CO2 in the same volume of atmosphere.

    H20 rules. When it’s in the air, the planet is hospitable. When it’s frozen out on Snowball Earth, the place is a crystal desert.
    C02-based life is merely the inhabitant of a water-dominated world.

  38. Ian W says:

    Gnomish says:
    August 12, 2010 at 6:42 am
    And when that rain falls, it radiates to space the heat of vaporization which is over 50,000 times the heat capacity of CO2 in the same volume of atmosphere.
    It also changes volume, from a liter to a few teaspoons which drops the pressure, lifting more moist air.
    All day, every day, the hadley heat pump never stops.

    From the Nature Paper:
    “The updrafts and downdrafts mold the liquid into vertical walls. If the bottom heats uniformly, the flow causes the top surface to break up into hexagonal cells, looking like a honeycomb. A honeycomb structure, it turns out, is one of the most effective way to transfer heat”

    And the heat engine takes the heat up to the tropopause past the most dense atmosphere greatly reducing the chance of any ‘scattering’ by carbon dioxide. The hotter the surface the faster the hydrologic cycle heat engine operates. A hurricane heat engine in one day is equivalent to 200 times the world wide electrical generation capacity. (From http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/tcfaq/D7.html )

  39. Richard111 says:

    Once more I am baffled: holes in cloud let in more warming sunlight than no cloud. (?)

  40. peterhodges says:

    aahhhh…complexity

    juanslayton says:
    August 12, 2010 at 7:27 am

    The claim that they understand has been reduced to a mission to understand! Now that’s progress.

    here here. that is what is at the heart of my skepticism.

    universal skepticism, that is.

  41. George E. Smith says:

    Who are they trying to kid ?

    I’ve been observing these cloud patterns for many years. In fact on my recent trip to the sea Of Cortez; I took many pictures of just such cloud patterns; In fact I do believe that I even reported on that right here at WUWT. If there was a way to post pictures here I could post some of my own pictures in this case taken from bottom up since I can’t get in a boat up above the clouds.

    I did in fact post some of those pictures on a fly fishing website if you want to search for them.

    Wow, what a revelation; the atmosphere is not a laminar homogeneous medium; so how much of the NASA budget was spent learning htis remarkable fact ?

  42. Pamela Gray says:

    Combine modeled rain systems with CO2 sinks and you get decreased global warming from CO2. Mauna Loa’s outgassed CO2 is sinking in the clouds.

    http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/CarbonHydrology/

  43. savethesharks says:

    Fascinating!

    Chris
    Norfolk, VA, USA

  44. Pamela Gray says:

    Thought experiment: Normal or average rain has a ph of 5.5 due to dissolved CO2. In the year 2000, US rain had a ph of 4 something. That could be due to the fact that the US has undergone significant greening, using up CO2 by the boatload. We are slightly starved. If global warming causes more rain, we could not only be even more starved for CO2, we could end up cooling too much. If global warming causes more drought, we could end up with less water vapor which would also lead to less CO2, leading to more plant starvation, etc. My next rig will be a CO2 belching mega truck with air breaks.

  45. George E. Smith says:

    Go here look at pictures # 8 and # 9

    http://www.danblanton.com/viewarchpictures.php?id=142986&archivefile=/arch201007.php

    George

    For a very modest amount of grant money, I can get more pictures like these.

  46. Vinnster says:

    As mrpkw says:
    “NOAA study has found that clouds “communicate” with each other”????????????
    Sheesh !!!!!

    I had the same reaction…I immediately thought it NOAA was implying “Gaia” talking to itself.

    It should read, ““NOAA study has found that clouds ‘affect’ with each other”…the AGW folks are sneaky little people.

  47. George E. Smith says:

    Hey Chasmod,

    If you want to grab those two photos from the above link and post them here at WUWT be my guest.

    In case you need some legal cover of ownereship, I could e-mail you the originals; except right now I don’t have my camera with me, and they are still on the chip.

    But WUWT is free to use them as Anthony sees fit.

  48. Leon Brozyna says:

    I like that second photo — the self-organizing symmetry of the natural world looks so man-made. Now all that’s left is for man to figure it out.

  49. 1DandyTroll says:

    Sure NOAA can find communicating clouds all they want but what does it mean when they’ve absolutely no clue as to the state of their own goddamn satellites.

    I’m predicting an early spring cleaning with big boots over at NOAA.

  50. Tim Clark says:

    Pamela Gray says:
    August 12, 2010 at 9:24 am
    My opinion? This event is more than likely a net cooling weather pattern.

    I concur. And if you read the article closely,

    This will help us to better interpret measurements in the real atmosphere and represent these clouds in climate models,” Wang said.

    A honeycomb structure, it turns out, is one of the most effective way[s] to transfer heat.

    Taken together, the set of experiments showed that rain causes open-cell clouds to form spontaneously, oscillate in the sky and resist change in the overall pattern. These are three characteristics of complex systems that self-organize and form a cell structure, such as flocks of birds or bubbles on a boiling surface.

    I surmise the authors are implying net cooling also. The obligatory “climate change moniker must be used for publication, but the general tone is “self-modulating cooling”.

  51. Joe Born says:

    The part about rain triggering more rain puts me in mind of Willis Eschenbach’s characterization of tropical rain patterns as implementing a climate “governor” (as opposed to mere negative feedback): rain tends to continue once it gets started–and, I may have heard him propose, tends to get started earlier in the day when temperatures are higher. (Apologies to Mr. Eschenbach if I’ve misrepresented his theory.)

  52. KTWO says:

    Climate change grouped the moon, Mars, Venus, and Saturn closely together last night. Tonight it will cause flashes in the Northeast sky.

  53. Clouds have cells; the Sun has granules. No surprise here. The forces of nature are universal. CO2 or not!

  54. Douglas DC says:

    Tim Clark-
    After reading it more carefully, I concur, as I said this is a climbdown from the
    AGW pile-I will leave it to the imagination of what kind of pile.
    Pamela Gray -this pattern is more and more like the 70’s-I can remember saying this to my Wife the other day-‘It was typical of the 70’s that there is a cool down and a bit of rain in August.” I said that last week before this pattern came in. I hope it isn’t going to be 1972….. or 1948… or 1969… We will see.

  55. Bill DiPuccio says:

    One of the wildcards in the formation of this steady-state phenomenon is the number and size of cloud nuclei. Too many nuclei and the cloud droplets never get large enough to precipitate out. This would be difficult to model and predict except on very short time scales on a meso-scale. The injection of dust or salt spray by a windstorm can create and entirely new scenario.

    There is little hope that GCM’s will ever be able to forecast average cloud cover on a decadal scale. Just a 1% error in global coverage = 5 million square kilometers (about 2/3 the contiguous US)!

  56. Treeman says:

    NOAA dream of GAIA while Susan Bohan tells the real story! http://www.contracostatimes.com/top-stories/ci_15689267?nclick_check=1
    No wonder the alarmists are gunning for Monckton and co. There’s nothing left in the tank. The alarmists are FUBAR! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FUBAR

  57. Gary Pearse says:

    As a geologist, I’m brainwashed into seeing patterns in airphotos and satellite imagery of the ground (I photogeologically mapped 30,000 sq mi. of Northern Nigeria in the 1960s with a week of ground truthing) and more than 50 years ago I had noticed structural organization in the clouds viewed from the air above them and sometimes from the ground. There is an apparent mechanical strength to clouds – creating kilometre long linear features, perhaps where masses press together (why don’t they just join? What keeps them distinct individual groups even when pressed together?). Individual cummulus clouds on a generally sunny day take a surprising amount of time to deform significantly as they move along in a wind, many of the smaller wisps and apopheses stubbornly maintaining there basic shape – what is the difference between the air with the cloud in it and the clear air around it that causes this cohesion – gravity between aerosol/water droplet particles? When you breath out a plume of vapour in the winter cold, you can watch it move away in a cloud but it quickly evaporates into the clear air. If you blow a stream of cigar smoke out, it twists and turns but tends to hold together for a surprising distance. For the cloud layers to float quite above the surface of the ground, they must be lighter than the air or they would sink down and land on the ground. When you watch a fog bank roll in from the sea, it moves like a fluid, rising up along cliffs and arching over to roll along the ground – why doesn’t it float up to 6000 feet like the cummulus clouds. And what about the cirro-cummulus clouds- horsetails and mackerel scales. They, too, form into discreet, similar-shaped entities and man, they float up at 20,000 feet where the air is very light. Why don’t they fall down? How do you account for their pattern ?- the convection cell seems less likely here. And delicate contrails last for hours – why wouldn’t they evaporate into the dry adjacent air? Hey I like this cellular communicating clouds paper, but I’m disappointed that all the things I mentioned about clouds got by-passed without mention for what seems to me to be of secondary interest on the subject of clouds. You can see I’ve been thinking about clouds for a long time. Perhaps it may give an insight into the effort I put into photogeology.

  58. My2Cents says:

    Sounds to me like the model should be similar to that for coupled pendulums.

    The curious thing about the paper is that it is so striking obvious in retrospect that this must take place, but that no one looked for it before. And that things like this are overlooked all the time.

  59. Rhoda R says:

    Not only do clouds form cells, they communicate and self organize. The next thin you know they’ll be demanding the vote.

  60. Gary Hladik says:

    Wait a minute. So when they told us a decade ago that the science was “settled”, it wasn’t?

    So is it settled now?

  61. Bernie says:

    Top class glider pilots have known about the hexagonal structure of convection cells for decades and it is referred to in the gliding literature. It is also known that this structure exists when there are just thermals with no clouds and no rain. Long cloud streets with strong lift for a hundred kilometers are also common over flat ground without rain.

    There are still many secrets waiting to be explained about convection in the atmosphere.

  62. JER0ME says:

    I got to “Using computer models … ” and realised there was no point continuing.

  63. u.k.(us) says:

    Re: The photos in the post.
    My questions to NOAA would be:

    Where were they taken.
    What time of year were they taken.
    Are they common occurrences.
    What percentage of the ocean do they cover.
    The narrative in your press release mentions “climate change” four times, yet the excerpts from the study only mention it once.

  64. Dr A Burns says:

    Just like the cells in heated oil on a frying pan …

  65. Zeke the Sneak says:

    Gary Pearse says:
    August 12, 2010 at 1:28 pm
    And what about the cirro-cummulus clouds- horsetails and mackerel scales. They, too, form into discreet, similar-shaped entities and man, they float up at 20,000 feet where the air is very light. Why don’t they fall down? How do you account for their pattern ?- the convection cell seems less likely here.

    Possibly the water droplets form dipoles, with the neg oxygen charge below, and the positive hydrogen charge above.

    This effect increases with the number of the water droplets in the cloud as they align with the efield.

    There is electrostatic repulsion between the negatively charged earth, and the neg charge of the water droplet. “Once the water vapor condenses into water droplets it is more plausible that millions of tons of water can remain suspended kilometres above the Earth by electrical means, rather than by thermal updraughts.”

    A possible balancing of the clouds, but that is a very old wonderful question.

  66. phlogiston says:

    KTWO Aug 12, 1140 am

    My daughter and saw the Pereid shooting stars from North Norfolk, UK. They were better than we thought.

  67. Mike Borgelt says:

    Bernie at August 12, 2010 at 4:40 pm has it right. It doesn’t have to do with rain.
    Wave patterns in the layer above the convection can also organize the patterns in the convective layer and/or vice versa as can wind shears. I’ve seen thermals line up with wind direction as well as across it and sometimes when the wind shears are just right and you climb to cloudbase and push out into the wind direction above cloudbase you get a magic elevator ride up the face of the cloud in smooth air. All this is well known to soaring pilots.
    Sailplanes sink at 100 to 400 feet per minute in straight flight. Managing to work the patterns of rising air between thermals to fly in air rising even 25 feet per minute on average provides a huge performance increment.

  68. Carrick says:

    The Kelvin-Helmholtz waves are one of my favorite organized cloud phenomenon, especially “breaking waves”. Another name for these are “billow clouds.”

    Here is another fun one… A von-Karmen vortex street (link).

  69. tallbloke says:

    Zeke the Sneak says:
    August 12, 2010 at 6:02 pm
    There is electrostatic repulsion between the negatively charged earth, and the neg charge of the water droplet. “Once the water vapor condenses into water droplets it is more plausible that millions of tons of water can remain suspended kilometres above the Earth by electrical means, rather than by thermal updraughts.”

    http://www.utdallas.edu/physics/faculty/tinsley.html

    “About half of the global warming over the past century can be accounted for by changes in the sun and the solar wind, and there are well documented correlations of climate during past millennia with cosmic ray flux changes. These can be understood in terms of electrical interactions between cloud droplets and aerosol particles responding to solar wind-induced changes in atmospheric ionization and in the latitude distribution of Jz, as discussed above.”

    The other half can probably nearly be accounted for by Anthony’s look at the surface temperature record.

  70. Pascvaks says:

    Looks kinda like the solar surface doesn’t it? See what NOAA can do? See what all that tax money buys? Maybe the Chinese will lend us somemore of their hard earned money at a not-too high rate of interest so we can play with our computers and make wild guesses about more and more things. Ain’t life in the Western World just keeeeenie-weeeenie?

  71. Zeke the Sneak says:

    Brian Tinsley’s work is quite interesting, thanks for the link.

    Rather than following the traditional view that only small changes in solar brightness should be considered in understanding the sun’s effect on climate, he is developing a theory involving rather the solar wind. According to Tinsley, the solar wind:

    1.) impedes the flow of high energy cosmic ray particles coming in from the galaxy
    2.) energizes high energy electrons in the earth’s radiation belts that precipitate into the atmosphere
    3.) changes the potential difference between the ionosphere and the earth in the polar cap regions.

    “There are good correlations, on the day-to-day time scale, between the three solar wind – modulated inputs to Jz mentioned above and small changes in atmospheric temperature and dynamics.”

    And as you say Anthony Watts [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzLNQV3dmcI] has managed to successfully account for the rest of the warming!
    :-D

  72. phlogiston says:

    Zeke the sneak

    If both the earth’s surface and cloud water droplets are negatively charged then why do we get lightning?

  73. Zeke the Sneak says:

    @Phlogiston

    From Wikipedia:
    “Since the water molecule is not linear and the oxygen atom has a higher electronegativity than hydrogen atoms, it carries a slight negative charge, whereas the hydrogen atoms are slightly positive. As a result, water is a polar molecule with an electrical dipole moment.”

    The polarized water molecules move to line up in the efield. “The average electric dipole moment of a water molecule in a raindrop is 40 percent greater than that of a single water vapor molecule.”

    And, it happens that storm clouds possess -ve charged below and +ve charge above.

    “The Earth has a net negative charge of about a million coulombs.”

    Most lightning is cloud to cloud.

    -ve lightning happens when a leader stroke comes from the cloud and a +ve streamer is sent up from the ground – but often from a tree or a building or a mountain.

    +ve lightning comes fromt the top of the storm cloud and its leader strike is met by a -ve streamer from the ground.
    (Basically, “when a charged step leader is near the ground, opposite charges appear on the ground and enhance the electric field.”)

    Now for rain:
    If the water droplets of clouds are suspended in the air by electrical means, then possibly when there is an electrical discharge in the clouds, the droplets become depolarized, and subject to gravity, falling as rain.

    Sources: electricalfun.com;
    Natural Resources Canada, and
    “Electric Weather” by Wal Thornhill

  74. Raredog says:

    I’ve seen the patterns in nature too, one summer’s dusk atop The Horn, Mt Buffalo, Australia, as thousands of Bogong moths en mass took to the air above our heads. Not only did their vibrating wings hum and pulse but also their countless flight paths created shimmering hexagons in the air. Wondrous.

  75. E.M.Smith says:

    So they figured out that when it rains, more sun can reach the surface, making more rising water vapor, and more rain (as the water vapor condenses up high) and this is the most effective heat transport. OK. Great insight to weather. Nothing at all about climate.

    Calling this stuff “Climate” and taking on “change” for no good reason just turns a great weather discovery into a mindless grant grovel. So they found WEATHER events they didn’t understand and that their video games don’t handle. We already knew that…

    IMHO the biggest thing in the article was ignored. A “throwaway”. Lots of overcast keeps things cool. If it breaks up into a rain system so sunlight reaches the surface, convection happens with water phase changes and…. keeps things cool. They found out that there are natural processes in clouds that keeps things cool, and ignored it.

  76. Brian H says:

    Yeah, so what’s the hope here? That NOAA does some decent science in spite of itself and suddenly blows off its AGW confusions? I think you’d get long odds at the bookmaker’s on that one.

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