Noctilucent clouds on the increase, climate change will likely be blamed

Of course, it might just be a negative feedback at work.

From NASA: Appearance of Night-Shining Clouds Has Increased

First spotted in 1885, silvery blue clouds sometimes hover in the night sky near the poles, appearing to give off their own glowing light. Known as noctilucent clouds, this phenomenon began to be sighted at lower and lower latitudes — between the 40th and 50th parallel — during the 20th century, causing scientists to wonder if the region these clouds inhabit had indeed changed — information that would tie in with understanding the weather and climate of all Earth.

Night-shining, or noctilucent clouds on July 3, 2011, in Lock Leven, Fife, Scotland.
Night-shining, or noctilucent clouds on July 3, 2011, in Lock Leven, Fife, Scotland.
Image Credit: Courtesy of Adrian Maricic

A NASA mission called Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, or AIM, was launched in 2007 to observe noctilucent clouds, but it currently only has a view of the clouds near the poles. Now scientists have gathered information from several other missions, past and present, and combined it with computer simulations to systematically show that the presence of these bright shining clouds have indeed increased in areas between 40 and 50 degrees north latitude, a region which covers the northern third of the United Sates and the lowest parts of Canada. The research was published online in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres on March 18, 2014.

NASA's AIM mission captured this image of noctilucent clouds over the poles in 2010.
NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, or AIM, mission captured this image of noctilucent clouds over the poles in 2010. By compiling data from several missions at once, researchers have now created a record of the clouds at lower latitudes as well. Image Credit: NASA/AIM

“Noctilucent clouds occur at altitudes of 50 miles above the surface — so high that they can reflect light from the sun back down to Earth,” said James Russell, an atmospheric and planetary scientist at Hampton University in Hampton, Va., and first author on the paper. “AIM and other research has shown that in order for the clouds to form, three things are needed:  very cold temperatures, water vapor and meteoric dust. The meteoric dust provides sites that the water vapor can cling to until the cold temperatures cause water ice to form.”

To study long-term changes in noctilucent clouds, Russell and his colleagues used historical temperature and water vapor records and a validated model to translate this data into information on the presence of the clouds. They used temperature data from 2002 to 2011 from NASA’s Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics, or TIMED, mission and water vapor data from NASA’s Aura mission from 2005 to 2011. They used a model previously developed by Mark Hervig, a co-author on the paper at GATS, Inc., in Driggs, Idaho.

The team tested the model by comparing its output to observations from the Osiris instrument on the Swedish Odin satellite, which launched in 2001, and the SHIMMER instrument on the U.S. Department of Defense STPSat-1 mission, both of which observed low level noctilucent clouds over various time periods during their flights. The output correlated extremely well to the actual observations, giving the team confidence in their model.

The model showed that the occurrence of noctilucent clouds had indeed increased from 2002 to 2011. These changes correlate to a decrease in temperature at the peak height where noctilucent clouds exist in the atmosphere. Temperatures at this height do not match temperatures at lower levels – indeed, the coldest place in the atmosphere is at this height during summertime over the poles – but a change there certainly does raise questions about change in the overall climate system.

Russell and his team will research further to determine if the noctilucent cloud frequency increase and accompanying temperature decrease over the 10 years could be due to a reduction in the sun’s energy and heat, which naturally occurred as the solar output went from solar maximum in 2002 to solar minimum in 2009.

“As the sun goes to solar minimum, the solar heating of the atmosphere decreases, and a cooling trend would be expected,” said Russell.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. manages the TIMED mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The spacecraft was built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

Related Links:

› TIMED mission
› Noctilucent clouds and AIM mission

About these ads

35 thoughts on “Noctilucent clouds on the increase, climate change will likely be blamed

  1. I’m guessing that it could be mighty cold at 50 miles high. On my recent trip to Geneva, I saw -68 deg C at 34-38, 000 feet, and while descending to Geneva, I saw -59 deg. C down to 8,000 ft.

    So I think ice could form 50 miles up, if you have H2O up there. Thet might imply that there is H2O at lower altitudes too.
    D’ya think more dime store clouds could be forming at lower altitudes too ??

    Pilot reported that puffy scattered clouds over that part of Europe, were at 4100 ft, according to Paris who gave them the answer to my question.

    But of course we continue to hear how cloud cover simply has not changed at all.

    Mother Gaia is not going to like all those noctilusions, where they ain’t supposed to be.

    Fancy that, water likes to condense on a substrate, including asteroids and microbes, as well as muons and other things.

  2. Willis should add translucent clouds to his list of emergent phenomena – I’d add Saharan dust storms, too. In a warming world there are no bad clouds. Based on the polar image they don’t go away on the daylight side of the world, so they work to our benefit 24/7.

  3. “””””…..gymnosperm says:

    April 10, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    Please explain to me one more time why they shine? Is it reflected light from beneath or is the ice resonating?…..”””””

    They don’t shine; they are high enough to still be in sunlight after sunset. I don’t think you can see them at midnight.

  4. I used to see these late at night over the North Atlantic enroute to London. They looked similar to scattered cirrus catching the predawn sun, but they were way the heck up there judging by how fast we were passing under them.

  5. Are you kidding me.
    Climate change was global warming.
    Sorry had to throw that in.
    Its the sun always was and always will be.
    It does not take a rocket scientist to figure that out.
    The farmers almanac people knew this way before we spent billions of dollars giving yahoos money to tell us what we already know.
    So tired of the man is doing it crowd.
    C02 is a wonderful gas that gives us life and feeds the people who the liberals say they want to help.
    What lies.
    Ok I feel better getting that off my chest.
    Thank God for you Anthony keep up the great work.

  6. The fact that the jet stream , sprites and noctilucent clouds are still little understood and only became know about in the last hundered years , suggest there is still much not ‘settled ‘ about the atmosphere. Add in that you cannot make a weather forecast worth a dam for over 48 hours and you have to wonder how climate ‘science’ has become able to make forecasts for 50 or more years ahead to a precision of two decimal places.

  7. I would swear I saw an article some years back claiming that noctilucent clouds were disappearing, and ‘man-made’ global warming was to blame. Try as I might, though, I cannot seem to find my way back to it.

  8. ” Now scientists have gathered information from several other missions, past and present, and combined it with computer simulations to systematically show that the presence of these bright shining clouds have indeed increased in areas between 40 and 50 degrees north latitude,”

    Is it possible to find a single study in this field that doesn’t contain one of the phrases “computer model”, “computer simulation”, or “adjusted data”?

  9. I will speculate that it is due to over the pole air travel. As the number of these flights have increased in the stratosphere, that is a lot of water vapor that is getting dumped up there.

  10. Put another way — is there also an increase in these sorts of clouds in the Southern Hemisphere? If not, than it is likely due to a local cause. I suspect air travel.

  11. Now scientists have gathered information from several other missions, past and present, and combined it with computer simulations to systematically show that the presence of these bright shining clouds have indeed increased in areas between 40 and 50 degrees north latitude, a region which covers the northern third of the United Sates and the lowest parts of Canada.

    Sorry, but computer simulations aren’t data. Either there’s an observation or there’s nothing. If the observations aren’t enough to support the claim that the appearances of noctilucent clouds have increased between 40 and 50 degrees north latitude, no amount of data massaging will make it so.

  12. Checking google for information brings up a lot of older material blaming global climate change for these clouds. For example this was in “Wired” 2009

    There is also research on the clouds over Antarctica and methane is blamed, but the methane increase is blamed on climate change.

    I want to know if the global warming computer models include the influence of noctilucent clouds.

  13. I think Crosspatch has probably got it right – the noctilucent clouds are the result of air transport. The planes put steam up there which quickly solidifies, and the ice crystals – so small as to be buffeted about by the air molecules rise as they warm the adjacent air and eventually rise to the very high levels referred to. And up there they reflect the sun’s rays, just increasing the albedo a teeny weeny bit, and since 1998 have removed all the heating.

    Well, this might be a long bow, but it is one more explanation for the cessation of CAGW.

    BTW – I saw a site giving data re temperature increases for California. Turns out that the overwhelming majority of the increases were in cities and towns, and in the ‘rural’ areas there was no increase. HIE rules!

  14. Puzzle pieces to Arctic sea ice? last 5 years there were more NLC’s and 2013 summer the most and the Arctic experienced the coolest summer on record. last 3 of 5 summers coolest on rec, rec back to 1958
    I see the connection and the Sun is giving warning signal of much colder times ahead if it stays quiet.

  15. The more NLC”S, the more sunlight is reflected back into space in the higher latitudes, right?
    Also there was summer frost in the summer of 2013.
    I bet this summer there will be more NLC’s then last year and more summer frost and cool arctic summer.
    We will se.

  16. Noctilucent clouds on the increase, climate change will likely be blamed

    Your are late to the party. Here are news reports from 2007

    National Geographic News – December 11, 2007
    Mysterious Clouds More Common Due to Climate Change?
    Christine Dell’Amore in San Francisco, California

    Mysterious “night-shining clouds” that light up the polar skies have become more luminous and frequent in recent years—and climate change may be the culprit, scientists announced Monday.


    Science Daily – April 11, 2007
    Spectacular ‘Night-shining’ Clouds Could Be A Harbinger Of Climate Change

  17. It should be Loch Leven, it grates when pronounced Lock but spelling it Lock ………

  18. Over san Francisco they have been laying chem trails at high altitude and its amazing how long they last. There seems to be a complete blackout on them but maybe they are doing climate experiments, rather than just poisoning us.:] I watched one for mre than an hour yesterday. It had not dissapated when I left.

  19. Guys you can’t go blaming increased noctilucent clouds on air travel.
    Airliners typically cruise at around 9100-10300m (30-35,000′) and noctilucent clouds occur between 75 and 90km, most commonly at or about 85km (between 246,000 and 295,000′, most commonly about 279,000′).

  20. I am less than impressed. Night glowing clouds have been around as long as I can remember (60+ yrs), even here at ~36°N. High altitude clouds are often illuminated by the sun for an hour+ after sunset. At the pole, illumination would be almost constant due to the atmospheric refraction.



  21. I posted very early on this, and wonder if my naivete is the reason for no remarks; it just seems to me that Kirby’s Cern work meshes with this discussion. Am I way off-base? – dick

  22. jfreed, you’re posting on the wrong thread, Christopher Monkton blew holes in Lovejoy’s 99% paper here:

    On this thread we’re interested in claimed increase in noctilucent cloud, which gullible warming theory should have us believe is threatened with extinction. Unless the story’s changed yet again, along with some caveat that more cloud in the cool (and very dry) level of the upper Stratosphere actually fit the theory all along.

  23. Just in case someone needs yet another theory, read, “The Chilling Stars”. It’s actually pretty interesting poor not written to well. But, if you like new ideas to think about it’s an okay read. jmho

  24. Dick says:
    April 11, 2014 at 8:07 pm
    I posted very early on this, and wonder if my naivete is the reason for no remarks; it just seems to me that Kirby’s Cern work meshes with this discussion. Am I way off-base? – dick

    Not at all, Dick! I correspond with Kirkby about his “Cloud” research at CERN, he’s an interesting fellow.

    I believe we are finding all sorts of interesting things about the interactions of cosmic rays (Svensmark & Kirkby etc.) with atmospheric substances. Strange chemical reactions occur at very high altitudes, where water can exist as a super-cooled liquid. He wrote this to me:

    Dear Charles,

    There is a lot of current interest in the ice-forming properties of bacteria and spores that are found in clouds. Ice is important since most of precipitation from clouds is initiated by ice via the Bergeron-Findeisen process. Ice-forming nuclei are rare in the atmosphere so there is a large amount of supercooled liquid water in clouds. Biological material seems to be among the most efficient ice nuclei known and can lead to rapid rainout of a supercooled cloud, hence their importance.

    Best regards, Jasper

    The interesting thing to me is what sort of forcing do noctilucent clouds impart, if any? Positive (trapping energy from the earth) or negative (reflecting solar energy back into space)? I’ve not seen anything definitive about this, although Anthony and I have exchanged a few ideas.

    There’s more here:

  25. Anthony, Interesting new NASA discovery on NLC’s 4/16/2014,,, BUT teleconnections are because of the Sun? Right? Not sure why they did not want to say it in the story?
    April 16, 2014: Earth’s poles are separated by four oceans, six continents and more than 12,000 nautical miles.

    Turns out, that’s not so far apart.

    New data from NASA’s AIM spacecraft have revealed “teleconnections” in Earth’s atmosphere that stretch all the way from the North Pole to the South Pole and back again, linking weather and climate more closely than simple geography would suggest.

    For example, says Cora Randall, AIM science team member and Chair of the Dept. of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado, “we have found that the winter air temperature in Indianapolis, Indiana, is well correlated with the frequency of noctilucent clouds over Antarctica.”

    Noctilucent clouds, or “NLCs,” are Earth’s highest clouds. They form at the edge of space 83 km above our planet’s polar regions in a layer of the atmosphere called the mesosphere. Seeded by “meteor smoke,” NLCs are made of tiny ice crystals that glow electric blue when sunlight lances through their cloud-tops.

    Auroras Underfoot (signup)AIM was launched in 2007 to investigate these “night-shining” clouds, to discover how they form and to learn about their inner chemistry. As is often the case, however, when exploring the unknown, researchers found something they weren’t even looking for: teleconnections.

    “It has been a surprise,” says Hampton University professor of atmospheric and planetary science James Russell, Principal Investigator of the AIM mission. “Years ago when we were planning the AIM mission, our attention was focused on a narrow layer of the atmosphere where NLCs form. Now we are finding out this layer manifests evidence of long-distance connections in the atmosphere far from the NLCs themselves.”

    One of these teleconnections links the Arctic stratosphere with the Antarctic mesosphere.

    “Stratospheric winds over the Arctic control circulation in the mesosphere,” explains Randall. “When northern stratospheric winds slow down, a ripple effect around the globe causes the southern mesosphere to become warmer and drier, leading to fewer NLCs. When northern winds pick up again, the southern mesosphere becomes colder and wetter, and the NLCs return.”

    The winter air temperature in Indianapolis is correlated with the frequency of noctilucent clouds over Antarctica. MoreThis January, a time of year when southern NLCs are usually abundant, the AIM spacecraft observed a sudden and unexpected decline in the clouds. Interestingly, about two weeks earlier, winds in the Arctic stratosphere were strongly perturbed, leading to a distorted polar vortex.

    “We believe that this triggered a ripple effect that led to a decline in noctilucent clouds half-way around the world,” says Laura Holt of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. “This is the same polar vortex that made headlines this winter when parts of the USA experienced crippling cold and ice.”

    Holt took a careful look at meteorological data and found that, indeed, there was a statistical link between winter weather in the USA and the decline in noctilucent clouds over Antarctica.

    “We picked Indianapolis as an example, because I have family living there,” says Randall, “but the same was true of many northern cities: cold air temperatures on the ground were correlated with NLC frequencies high above Antarctica two weeks later,” she says.

    The two week delay is, apparently, how much time it takes for the teleconnection signal to propagate through three layers of atmosphere (the troposphere, stratosphere and mesosphere), and from pole to pole.

    It is a complicated topic, but this much is clear: “NLCs are a valuable resource for studying long-distance connections in the atmosphere,” says Russell, “and we are just getting started.”

    They did not mention the driver of the NLC’s, well it is the sun and when quiet there are a lot of NLC’s. From October to end of March the sun was active with a very active second peak and very strong spike in TSI. So the summer in Antarctica had less.
    Their teleconnections theory is a byproduct of of the activity on the sun not the other way around.

Comments are closed.