Global Storms on Mars Launch Dust Towers Into the Sky


Nov. 26, 2019

Global Storms on Mars Launch Dust Towers Into the Sky

Side-by-side movies shows how the 2018 global dust storm enveloped the Red Planet, courtesy of the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) camera onboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). This global dust storm caused NASA's Opportunity rover to lose contact with Earth. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Side-by-side movies shows how the 2018 global dust storm enveloped the Red Planet, courtesy of the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) camera onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). This global dust storm caused NASA’s Opportunity rover to lose contact with Earth. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Full image and caption

Dust storms are common on Mars. But every decade or so, something unpredictable happens: A series of runaway storms breaks out, covering the entire planet in a dusty haze.

Last year, a fleet of NASA spacecraft got a detailed look at the life cycle of the 2018 global dust storm that ended the Opportunity rover’s mission. And while scientists are still puzzling over the data, two papers recently shed new light on a phenomenon observed within the storm: dust towers, or concentrated clouds of dust that warm in sunlight and rise high into the air. Scientists think that dust-trapped water vapor may be riding them like an elevator to space, where solar radiation breaks apart their molecules. This might help explain how Mars’ water disappeared over billions of years.

Dust towers are massive, churning clouds that are denser and climb much higher than the normal background dust in the thin Martian atmosphere. While they also occur under normal conditions, the towers appear to form in greater numbers during global storms.

A tower starts at the planet’s surface as an area of rapidly lifted dust about as wide as the state of Rhode Island. By the time a tower reaches a height of 50 miles (80 kilometers), as seen during the 2018 global dust storm, it may be as wide as Nevada. As the tower decays, it can form a layer of dust 35 miles (56 kilometers) above the surface that can be wider than the continental United States.

The yellow-white cloud in the bottom-center of this image is a Mars "dust tower"

The yellow-white cloud in the bottom-center of this image is a Mars “dust tower” — a concentrated cloud of dust that can be lofted dozens of miles above the surface. The blue-white plumes are water vapor clouds. This image was taken on Nov. 30, 2010, by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The recent findings on dust towers come courtesy of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which is led by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Though global dust storms cloak the planet’s surface, MRO can use its heat-sensing Mars Climate Sounder instrument to peer through the haze. The instrument is designed specifically for measuring dust levels. Its data, coupled with images from a camera aboard the orbiter called the Mars Context Imager (MARCI), enabled scientists to detect numerous swelling dust towers.

How Did Mars Lose Its Water?

Dust towers appear throughout the Martian year, but MRO observed something different during the 2018 global dust storm. “Normally the dust would fall down in a day or so,” said the paper’s lead author, Nicholas Heavens of Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. “But during a global storm, dust towers are renewed continuously for weeks.” In some cases, multiple towers were seen for as long as 3 1/2 weeks.

The rate of dust activity surprised Heavens and other scientists. But especially intriguing is the possibility that dust towers act as “space elevators” for other material, transporting them through the atmosphere. When airborne dust heats up, it creates updrafts that carry gases along with it, including the small quantity of water vapor sometimes seen as wispy clouds on Mars.

A previous paper led by Heavens showed that during a 2007 global dust storm on Mars, water molecules were lofted into the upper atmosphere, where solar radiation could break them down into particles that escape into space. That might be a clue to how the Red Planet lost its lakes and rivers over billions of years, becoming the freezing desert it is today.

Scientists can’t say with certainty what causes global dust storms; they’ve studied fewer than a dozen to date.

“Global dust storms are really unusual,” said Mars Climate Sounder scientist David Kass of JPL. “We really don’t have anything like this on the Earth, where the entire planet’s weather changes for several months.”

With time and more data, the MRO team hopes to better understand the dust towers created within global storms and what role they may play in removing water from the Red Planet’s atmosphere.

For more information about MRO:

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November 29, 2019 2:21 am

What does this mean for humans like elon musk who wants to go to mars him self? Can we survive on mars?

Bill Powers
Reply to  Sunny
November 29, 2019 3:36 am

He will need to take a lot of dustbusters.

Reply to  Bill Powers
November 30, 2019 12:25 pm

Elon will need to invent a Mega-Maid

Reply to  Sunny
November 29, 2019 5:36 am

A man or men survive on Mars? A man might for a while depending on resupply from Earth. Men will not return from Mars for the expense of the blackhole of welfare egalitarianism.

Brian Steere
Reply to  Sunny
November 29, 2019 9:00 am

The paperclipped Nazi, von Braun wrote a fictional work on the human colonisation of Mars:

The prophetic part of von Braun’s work concerns the autonomous government of Mars. Namely, he proposed that, instead of presidents, rulers of the colony would be appointed the title of “Elon”: “The Martian government was directed by ten men, the leader of whom was elected by universal suffrage for five years and entitled “Elon.”

Perhaps if they cant actually DO the mars thing, Hollywood could help out.

Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
Reply to  Sunny
November 29, 2019 3:24 pm

Elon’s plans do include powering the entire Mars colony with a giant solar farm. The dilute nature of solar at Mars’ distance from the Sun (43% of that at Earth, on average) is not the only problem to overcome. Dust storms covering the entire planet for weeks at a time are a little more difficult to overcome. It’s here that NASA’s planetary nuclear reactors will come in handy. Non-stop power for 25 years.

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
November 30, 2019 5:24 pm

Solar is good in the short term, but it also requires batteries for storage of the power they generate. And unless something amazing happens, they’ll need to replace those batteries rather often too. That’s an interesting problem in itself.

Actually; getting the solar panels to Mars would be fun. And then getting the first batteries there would be hell expensive. Seems like a non-starter to me.

Brian Steere
Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
December 1, 2019 10:02 am

The Elon may have access to insider tech – the stuff that gets outwardly squelched or kicked into the long grass. The appeal of terraforming Mars may completely override any sanity.

On the other hand – Hollywood could make a reality tv show of it without having to get so messy.

Reply to  Sunny
November 30, 2019 7:36 am

what does it mean for future colonists? nothing, it’s weather.

Dodgy Geezer
November 29, 2019 2:40 am

Someone needs to pick half a dozen fair sized icy asteroids and perturb their orbits so that they collide with Mars.

6 ice asteroids of 100 miles diameter would replace approximately the same amount of water which Mars is believed to have lost. More water vapour would heat the atmosphere. Then all we need are a few of the microbes which cause the Great Oxidation Event on Earth ……

John Tillman
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
November 29, 2019 6:27 am

To keep its new water, Mars would need a magnetosphere as well.

A geomartian satellite could artificially provide one, but a long-term solution might be to drive an asteroid over to serve as a large moon, with suffficient gravitational force to restart Mars’ core dynamo, assuming it once had one before cooling too much.

Raising surface temperature would also melt some of Mars’ subsurface and polar water ice. Increased air pressure might keep it liquid, so that the introduced cyanobacteria can oxygenate the water and air.

Also need to increase N2 somehow.

Interested Observer
Reply to  John Tillman
November 29, 2019 7:11 am

Well, if we’re indulging in total fantasies, we might as well go the whole way.

For Mars to be truly habitable for humans, we’d need to double its mass. So, let’s just scoop up as many asteroids as we’d need to do that from the asteroid belt and slam them into Mars. Once we’ve doubled its mass, then we could tow a decent size asteroid into Martian orbit for a moon. Finally, we could drill into Mars’ core with a drill-ship made of unobtainium and set off a bunch of nuclear explosions to re-liquefy the core and get it spinning again. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

God only knows how much it will cost but, it will be totally worth it.

Reply to  Interested Observer
November 29, 2019 8:00 am

There are probably global warming alarmists who think this would be a better idea than adapting to whatever changes might occur here on earth if the temperature does go up a bit.

Reply to  Interested Observer
November 29, 2019 10:23 am

with our luck one of the asteroids would miss Mars and hit the Earth. Kind of line in the “Hunt for Red October” torpedo scene (pardon the 15 sec ad)

Dodgy Geezer
Reply to  Interested Observer
November 29, 2019 11:35 am

Actually, an impact by a large body would probably melt a large part of the core without needing to do anything else…

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Interested Observer
November 30, 2019 5:40 am

If humans lived on MArs with it’s current mass and gravity, humans would be very tall and make great basketball players. I can see it now…”The Invasion of Evil Basketball Players from Mars”…they could all hitch a ride on the new Tesla Truck.

Geo Rubik
Reply to  John Tillman
November 29, 2019 10:26 am

Quaid! Start the reactor!

Reply to  Geo Rubik
November 29, 2019 4:02 pm

For Social Security recipients only: Check with MGM. They apparently kept the Krell power plant from Altair 4. I keep seeing it in TV series reruns and low budget movies. That should do the trick.

Reply to  John Tillman
November 29, 2019 12:54 pm

Yes, Mars would lose that water, but it would take millions of years.

Reply to  Markw
November 30, 2019 10:10 am

There was something just recently about proposals of a ring of satellites toward the sun that could produce enough of a magnetic field to deflect (redirect) much of the solar wind. Not sure of the power requirements of the satellite array, but I’m sure it would have to be considerable.

Reply to  beng135
November 30, 2019 11:27 am

re: ” proposals of a ring of satellites toward the sun that could produce enough of a magnetic field to deflect (redirect) much of the solar wind. ”

Where are they going to get mono-polar magnets to start with?


A mono-polar magnet would be a Maxwellian law violation.

Nota bene: If the foregoing went over one’s head you’re probably an ‘Electric Universe’ aficionado. (Brian S. are you listening/reading this?)

Reply to  beng135
December 1, 2019 7:15 am
Brian Steere
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
November 29, 2019 9:11 am

While the dirty snowball idea is still running – like margarine for your health. I am not aware of this being verified. Yes ‘water’ or ionised particles that include ‘water’ are seen ‘off-gassing’ – but no holes or vents for these plumes that have the quality of a jet that does not spray but jets. Just as Io is seen to eject ‘volcanic’ ice into Saturn’s rings. But are there verified ‘snowball’ comets – or is this a theory that has yet to melt away?

I am aware of ‘water’ travelling between planetary bodies and have read of this being measured and detected from Earth to Moon. There may have been conditions in which Martian water was taken into space (close encounter scenario) to flood Earth. This kind of thinking is not welcome in a steady state billiard ball model of the Universe.

However I have read that analysis of Saturn’s ‘water’ matches our own. Perhaps the past is not as the models backwardly project.
What does your Great Event refer to in particular?

Gras Albert
November 29, 2019 3:42 am

Holy Moly… If only these ‘scientists’ had considered what happens to thermals in a 0.38G environment without a temperature inversion…

I suggest that practical experience in lower atmosphere physics (soaring training as a glider pilot) should be compulsory before anyone should be considered an atmospheric scientist!

(The Real) Bob_W
Reply to  Gras Albert
November 29, 2019 7:52 am

Heh. No further need to wonder if I was the only reader of this post with a similar perspective. Convection – it’s not just a theory anymore. And, yes, I realize my take on the physics underlying what’s shown here is as conjectural as those of ‘paid scientists.’

November 29, 2019 3:45 am

The blue-white plumes are water vapor clouds. – article

Somehow, I was under the impression that water vapor on Mars is more rare than anything else. Fascinating! Is this coming from the surface? Unknown, but that’s okay. If there is water vapor in Mars’ atmosphere, however small an amount it may be, how much is buried below the surface layers? If we finally (ever) colonize Mars, will we have to transport our own water there, or maybe siphon it from some iceball floating around out there? Gee whize, I have so many questions…..

Reply to  Sara
November 29, 2019 6:02 am

re: water

How plentiful is Oxygen on Mars?

Does Mars have any Hydrocarbons easily reached by drilling?

Do you see where I’m headed with this?

November 29, 2019 4:45 am

Mars has lost most of its atmosphere due to the solar wind. link Why wouldn’t that explain the loss of most of the water? Ice sublimes directly to vapor. Water vapor naturally rises in the atmosphere.

Bob boder
November 29, 2019 4:56 am

Well duh isn’t the atmosphere mostly CO2 of course there are more severe storms there.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Bob boder
November 29, 2019 7:14 am

I wonder what St Grrrrreta sees when she looks at Mars? I suppose all she can see is the CO2 blocking her view of the surface.

Has the little actress arrived in Portugal yet?

I know…How dare I!

Bryan A
Reply to  Rich Davis
November 29, 2019 8:22 am

Given the quantity of dust storms there, solar panels could be problem forming or job creating needed to be dusted off often.
Just look at how much Rovers Opportunity and Spirit supply dropped over the course of a year and became inoperable from one of the global storms

Brian Steere
Reply to  Bryan A
November 29, 2019 9:17 am

Yes – BUT – these seem to be ‘self-cleaning’ on Mars – at least they just keep going on various machines that ran on far far longer than predicted.
So yes – the dust blocks but then its gone?
Incidentally the military has issues maintaining vehicles in fine dust environments and one of my camera’s zoom mechanism failed from fine sandy windy beaches.

November 29, 2019 5:00 am

like eeyores noddy cars..Id say his mars teams might wanna do some thinking on going at all
being at ground level where these start up would be less than amusing if one survived at all

November 29, 2019 5:16 am

Hmm, “every decade or so . . .” Any correlation with the 11 year solar cycle? That would put our climate modellers in a knot!

Reply to  Fred
November 29, 2019 6:27 am

My thoughts exactly.

Bryan A
Reply to  John
November 29, 2019 8:33 am

This particular “Dust plume” is rising from the highlands area adjacent to the Noctis Labyrinthus area and just west of the Valles Marineris while the “Water Vapor” plume is rising off the adjacent highlands volcano Pavonis Mons

November 29, 2019 5:42 am

The towers lift dust up 56 km? That’s astonishing. I wonder how high Saharan dust can get here, certainly not above the tropopause. Mars might not have one.

Oh, I can answer that, of course. shows one big release topping out at 12 km.

Philip Mulholland
Reply to  Ric Werme
November 30, 2019 4:23 pm


The Martian equatorial tropopause is at 70 Km.
See Justus and Braun, 2007; Atmospheric Environments for Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) Table 5.1.1

November 29, 2019 6:52 am

“Scientists can’t say with certainty what causes global dust storms”

Climate change for sure. The plant food in earth’s atmosphere is messing with the Martian’s climate so expect a deputation of their green children to COP25. If we’re lucky we can negotiate another 10 years to get our act together before they reach a tipping point and invade. Do we have any virgins left for the volcanoes?

brian stratford
Reply to  observa
November 29, 2019 12:30 pm

Its electrical, see Electric Universe Wall Thornhill and Dave Scot.

Reply to  brian stratford
November 30, 2019 9:41 am

I don’t think you understand exactly what that means; are you alluding to an elementary charged particle, a reference to Maxwell’s equations, or something else?

Jeff in Calgary
November 29, 2019 7:11 am

With such a thin atmosphere, this seems amazing. The surface pressure is quite low, it must be almost non-existent at 56km.

Reply to  Jeff in Calgary
November 29, 2019 8:42 am

Great minds think alike. Remarkable that such a thin atmosphere could produce such powerful winds and could lift dust to such heights. Maybe the weak gravity has something to do with it.

I wonder if bits of surface dust could be lifted high enough in these wind towers and be propelled fast enough to reach escape velocity and leave Mars entirely? And then eventually reach Earth or other planets or moons?

Smart Rock
November 29, 2019 7:18 am

If the Martian atmosphere is so thin, it’s hard to imagine turbulence keeping dust airborne for so long. There has to be some sort of electrostatic effect at work, lofting dust particles, rather like the way Thomas Gold envisioned to act on the moon.

Gold’s theory of lunar geology involved the creation of very fine, electrostatically charged dust particles by the action of cosmic rays on the rocky surface, with down-slope transport of dust particles being suspended by their electrostatic charge. The theory was discredited after the 1969 moon landings, but maybe, with a bit of atmosphere to help, some form of Gold’s dust world might exist on Mars.

Gold also wrote about abiotic oil (frequently debunked here at WUWT). And he promoted the steady-state universe theory, which lost out to big-bang-dark-matter-dark-energy as the chosen model for cosmologists.

Reply to  Smart Rock
November 29, 2019 11:39 am

Good Points, Smart Rock

Brian Steere
Reply to  Smart Rock
November 30, 2019 5:50 am

When the rush to debunk is noticed – something more interesting is going on than consensus collectivism. Ionised nano particulates don’t have need friction to exert a force 10 to the 27 times greater magnitude than gravity. But if the latter force transfers to kinetic motion then you ALSO have electrostatic elements – as well as complex electromagnetic fields.
When abiotic oil information was shared by the Russians they were stonewalled. I could make a list of people whose contributions were stonewalled – because the then current investment of narrative identity was felt too big to fail. At a later date their findings may creep in – possibly with acknowledgement – often not – as the persistent airbrushing of history to the ‘makers of its telling’.
Telling the difference between a cover story and a resonant match (truth) requires awareness and responsibility for our own filters. The Russians don’t have to believe in abiotic oil – since they can locate and extract it. The West has to believe in scarcity as the bedrock of its insider controlling elites.
The whole mess of ‘climate guilt and punishment’ is the sustainability of scarcity (energy control) as the necessary basis for an elitist possession and control. Along with a similar chokehold on any and every other leverage by which to dominate – such as (GM) Agro-bio-tech, Pharma, Water, Information and Education – the Broad Spectrum Dominance that cannot stop because there is no ‘enough’ or rested fulfilment in lack of love. It MUST seek in substitution and there is nothing that CAN ever be enough to substitute for your reality. Love is used here as the unconflicted balance point that recognises itself in its Expression of Existence. Not its manipulative ‘substitute’ of the attempt to peak without troughing – or peak while getting everyone else to take the consequence.
I’ll now go look for Gold 😉

November 29, 2019 7:57 am

““Global dust storms are really unusual,” said Mars Climate Sounder scientist David Kass of JPL. “We really don’t have anything like this on the Earth, where the entire planet’s weather changes for several months.””

Yes, we do here on Earth — It is called ENSO, El Nino-Southern Oscillation. What drives massive sloshing of Pacific equatorial water to pile up in the western Pacific (La Nina) or to release in a warm water upwelling in the eastern Pacific (El Nino state) is the Southern Oscillation – an atmospheric pressure pattern gradient. The Southern Oscillation is a pressure pattern gradient (measured by a difference of air pressure between Tahiti and Darwin weather stations) that sets up in the Earth’s southern hemisphere by unpredictable mechanism(s).

As for Mars, it is becoming clearer that Mars global dust storms arise due to predictable orbital momentum-spin axis momentum transfers that create a pressure pattern gradient in the southern hemisphere that drives Martian winds to pick then the super fine dust from the surface. The 2018 Dust Storm was predicted by James Shirley of JPL orbital moneum-spin transfer mathematical model he described in his 2015 paper in Icarus.

He also predicted the 2016 dust storm. The actual start in the 2016 storm was few months earlier than the peak period of his prediction, thus pointing to refinements in his model were still needed. The 2018 dust storm described in this post from NASA was then 2.2 years after the 2016 dust storm, as his model predicts.

The problem for mathematical modeling attempts to predict Earth’s ENSO state using spin-orbital momentum transfer mechanism is the Earth is a 3-body problem with our large Moon. The Earth-Moon system is essentially a binary planet that is gravitationally interacting with the solar barycenter, thus making ENSO future state transitions between neutral to El Nino or to La Nina unpredictable by computation. Mars has two moon, but there sizes/mases are so small compared to Mars, they do not matter.

Kevin kilty
November 29, 2019 8:04 am

Between the solar wind and cosmic rays, Mars is so hostile for human life that I can’t understand why we wish to bear the expense to send anything more than satellites, robots, and rovers.

I recall in 1965 when Mariner 4 reached Mars I was extremely disappointed to find its surface resembling that of the Moon. Turns out the limited series of photographs sampled an extremely old surface, and Mars’s surface turned out to be more varied and interesting than it seemed at first glance.

Reply to  Kevin kilty
November 29, 2019 10:07 am

The soils on Mars are loaded with perchlorate ion, ClO4-. The perchlorate ion was likely formed from the chlorine as brine (NaCl, KCl) oceans from Mars’ ocean(s) that dried up. The oxygen of the perchlorate is likely from the H2O that used to be Mars’ ocean(s).

The picture is one where over hundreds of millions of years of the first billion years on Mars, solar UV/EUV dissociated the H2O vapor to constituent atoms, slowly depleting Mars’ molecular liquid surface water. The light hydrogen easily escaped to space in Mars’ lower gravity and lack of magnetosphere to limit/reduce solar wind ablation like our Earth. The oxygen cycled back to the surface to form perchlorate ions in the drying briny soil constanlty being UV irradiated.

So today the perchlorate is a “coating” constituent on the superfine Mars dust. This dust gets suspended high in Mars very thin atmosphere, giving Mars its reddish-colored atmosphere. Solar EUV/UV continues to knock oxygens off the perchlorate, forming chlorite radicals and hypochlorate radicals. Both chlorite (ClO2*) and hypochlorite (ClO*) radicals are extremely efficient at catalyzing a rapid destruction of ozone (O3). Thus Mars loss of its oceans, the resulting perchlorate loading of the soils, no ozone with the chlorine ions/radicals in the upper atmosphere all conspired to keep UV flux levels to the surface high. This is quite unlike Earth where our substantial oceans, higher gravity, and magnetosphere kept Earth from descending into a Mars-like cold desert state, with a life deadly bleach-oxidizing surface constantly being irradiated with solar UV.

A decent read on Mars chance of microbial life after a reconsideration of the implications of perchlorate loaded soils and UV is here:

Brian Steere
Reply to  Kevin kilty
November 30, 2019 2:51 am

Curious use of hostile – because there is no intent – merely lack of conditions of support.
You may be aware that our mind(s) run a perception management system that effectively mainstreams a narrative in order to get energy or support for agenda that has little if anything to do with what it presents to be.
Whenever you see an ‘expense’ or even a ‘waste’ in terms of funding or investment of life and energy of support, be aware there is a two sided balance sheet – and so funds and support or captured attention by means of such narratives flow to the fulfilment of an actual agenda – that may never reach the awareness of the narrative identity being played out.
In short PR can become an interwoven narrative that becomes ‘too big to fail’ or allow disclosure and so those who live by it cannot get out as a result of chasing their own ‘carrots’ and in fear of the ‘stick’ when it catches up with them.
Running ahead of our debts in more ways than one.

Michael Ozanne
November 29, 2019 8:11 am

Oh NO!!!!! They’ve launched the cylinders……….



David Blenkinsop
November 29, 2019 10:13 am

Obviously, the human Carbon Footprint is stomping on poor Mars now.

November 29, 2019 11:44 am

Dust storms are excellent at generating electrical pulses.

Fifty miles tall dust storms?
Can Mars atmosphere allow lightning?
Humans might be tall enough to find out.

Plus dust and static will make any window impossible to see through. Before the dust erodes the surface.

Reply to  ATheoK
November 29, 2019 8:38 pm

There would be tell-tale flashes seen by MRO and other orbiters during nighttime passes. Plus the many dust devils that the earlier Opportunity rover have photographed did not to my knowledge ever capture a discharge flash.

Reply to  ATheoK
November 30, 2019 4:17 am

re: ATheoK November 29, 2019 at 11:44 am
Dust storms are excellent at generating electrical pulses.

The generation of lightning on earth involves ice (convection above the ice line or freezing altitude) – how does it work on Mars?

Simply assuming the Triboelectic effect is in-play along with the dust particles is insufficient … please describe the assumed ‘charge separation’ process that takes place on Mars?

Dust impinging on ‘something’ (like a man-made structure) does not lightning make. It may work to ‘charge’ the structure electrostatically, but it will not produce lightning.

Brian Steere
Reply to  _Jim
November 30, 2019 6:43 am

You state with conviction that ice is necessary for lightning on Earth?
Is that what the model demands or what you observe?
Volcanic dust is one example.
Why – because a theory explains some of an observation – is it assigned the status of a jealous god?

Now what is called ice in the atmosphere may be a phase change of ionic ‘water’ particulates. I say ‘water’ because I do not mean H2O when speaking of ionised particulates or vesicles.

Note that the tonnage of ‘water’ and ice’ that in any given moment is above our head will often be very very many tons. But is not felt as pressure (excepting rain and hail 😉 because it is electrically supported.

Reply to  Brian Steere
November 30, 2019 7:51 am

re: “You state with conviction that ice is necessary for lightning on Earth?”

Yes. It involves the Triboelectric effect too. (Notwithstanding lightning occurring in the vicinity of an active volcano.)

After much study and observation on this subject (IOW, this was NOT arrived at lightly, over an afternoon’s tea) I have issued that “summary judgement”.

Brian Steere
Reply to  _Jim
November 30, 2019 9:02 am

So do you recognise the atmosphere as a capacitance between Earth and Solar ‘wind’?

Reply to  Brian Steere
November 30, 2019 9:06 am

re: “So do you recognise the atmosphere as a capacitance between Earth and Solar ‘wind’?”


For your benefit, Brian:

Definition: capacitor
a device used to store an electric charge, consisting of one or more pairs of conductors separated by an insulator.

Brian Steere
Reply to  _Jim
November 30, 2019 4:16 pm

No thanks to your patronising condescension _Jim
If you cannot grasp that the principle that we call capacitance operates within natural physical processes then you simply reveal that – currently, and for your own reasons, you choose not to see it. That is your freedom.

Reply to  Brian Steere
November 30, 2019 9:22 am

I have one qualifying question for you Brian, do you know who M. A. Uman is?

Brian Steere
Reply to  _Jim
November 30, 2019 5:20 pm

Understanding Lightning 1971

There are innumerable people who are not daft – who devote their lives to a study.
Many make contributions that are honoured and accepted some – after they are dead and reinstated.
Others work falls outside acceptance and not necessarily because it is wrong.

How many authoritative pronouncements stand the test of new perspective?

I am not engaging with ‘appeal to authorities’ but with your curiosity and willingness to engage in reasonable discussion – or lack of such willingness because you already know and have nothing more to learn.

I don’t claim to be right so much as to put forth idea that resonates as worthy of considering – even if only to initiate a process of discovery.
You can take or leave anything and as they say use it or lose it – I’m not selling anything.
But the climate scam and many others operate through minds that are conformed to ‘authority’ in a blind trust that they really understand and so by learning by rote without my own question I will inherit understanding or deliverance under the powers and protections it will deliver.

Being able to hold many views in mind at the same time can open a greater perspective that merely competing views don’t – and generally that limits perspective to the survival of the funded.

Reply to  Brian Steere
November 30, 2019 9:38 am

Do you know who the ” Solving Tornadoes* ” guy is?

* Look it up.

Brian Steere
Reply to  _Jim
November 30, 2019 12:02 pm

The total potential difference from the surface of the earth to the top of the atmosphere is about 400,000 volts.

This will not only fluctuate with Solar conditions but induce electrical capacitance in the Earth – and ‘leak’ through the dielectric.

Reply to  Brian Steere
November 30, 2019 1:36 pm

re: “The total potential difference from the surface of the earth to the …”

You’ve checked, verified this using your own “field mill”? Do you know what that is, or not? Do you take what is “in print” automatically without doing ANY lab work to verify the pablum possibly published by others?

In any case, I find this to be a much more reasonable case (unspecified cite):

The earth’s electric field, which lies between the negatively charged surface and the positively charged upper atmosphere, should be discharged in 5 min or less because of the constant ionization of air molecules by cosmic rays and the earth’s natural radioactivity. Some of the electrons from the ionization move to the upper atmosphere where at an altitude of about 50 km the conductivity is so good that the atmosphere is essentially a spherical conductor. The rising electrons will neutralize this positive conductor. Similarly, some of the positive ions from the ionization descend to the negative ground to neutralize it. Because the worldwide current resulting from the ionization is about 1800 amps, both the ground and the upper atmosphere should be discharged in a few minutes.

Brian Steere
Reply to  _Jim
December 1, 2019 4:21 am

More patronising condescension.
And continual baiting to engage in something that pretends to be a conversation.

I am moved to open the mind from filtering and distorting judgements.
You wish to be the last and final pronouncement.
There’s no real communication.
Have a good day.

Reply to  Brian Steere
November 30, 2019 2:21 pm

I don’t get that you are the sharpest knife in the drawer, and this is compounded by the fact you think everyone around you is an idiot – an veritable exhibition of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Maybe you just don’t KNOW where to look for recent research on this topic. Maybe you need pointers, like this ‘white’ paper:

“Charge Generation and Separation Processes”
Author Y. Yair

Abstract – This paper presents a short overview of our current understanding of the generation of charged particles in different environments and circumstances (e.g. thunderclouds, dust storms, volcanic plumes, rings, and planetary surfaces) and the subsequent spatial separation that leads to the formation of electrical fields.

Different mechanisms are involved on various scales, starting from the molecular level, through the single particle (droplet, crystal, solid) and finally the entraining volume (cloud, plume etc.).

Encapsulated within a dynamic and turbulent medium, particles need to come into contact and to immediately separate, to be later transported away from each other.

In order to explain the observed electrical fields and ensuing lightning or other forms of discharge, these processes need to be extremely effective. The section will briefly review laboratory results and modeling efforts of charge separation and electric field build-up in various planetary settings, and cite the appropriate observations of electrical activity on different planets.

Brian Steere
Reply to  _Jim
December 1, 2019 9:31 am

I think that is what is meant by gaslighting.
Thanks – but no thanks.
Address the ideas – not the person.
or you will find I am simply out of resonant communication.

I am open to personal communication – as an establishing of the conditions of growing trust.
That is not about the ideas but about an openhanded and clear intention.

Personal investment (ego) is the distortion of science – though it can and does drive a competitive override of true needs by fear-driven agenda (possession and control).
It isn’t that we ‘shouldn’t’ be self-cented or are morally bad to want our own way, but that without awareness of this facet of ourselves, it is both masked over, hidden – AND effectively sabotaging the results from the shadows. That such a manipulative int becomes a consciously identified sense of leveraging power by deceit – is revealed in the world of psyops, propaganda and weaponised speech – that gaslights, smears and insinuates by association while hiding behind ‘authorities’.

The Good News is … noticing that we do this – IS our freedom to do something else – more truly aligned and thus with a truly fulfilling result. However, aligning with a deeper self-honesty is not necessarily the way to fame or fortune or any other symbol of worthiness. But it is the basis from which to share in worthiness.

Reply to  Brian Steere
November 30, 2019 3:32 pm

More ‘food for thought’, Brian, to help disabuse you of this ‘Electric Universe’ concept which seems to have such an iron grip on its adherents. Electrostatics play a part, but, not in quite the way the Elec Uni ppl pose and propose it.

“Problems and New Directions for Electrostatics Research in the Context of Space and Planetary Science”
Author Gregory T. Delory

Abstract— The lofting, transport, and stratification of particles, dust, and aerosols is a
ubiquitous process occurring in many planetary environments. Thus atmospheric electricity
and other electrostatic phenomena
are very likely to be commonplace on many planetary
bodies and moons. At present there are confirmed detections of lightning using optical and
radio instruments at Saturn and Jupiter, generated by mechanisms thought to be similar to
those found in terrestrial thunderstorms. The presence of lightning on Venus has been inferred
through the detection of electromagnetic whistler waves in orbit.

The atmosphere of Mars is one compelling example of a system that should possess active electrical processes arising from triboelectric charging, where dust storms are known to occur on local, regional, and global scales. Airless small bodies and moons are also not immune to charging phenomena, which are generated in their case by interactions between their surfaces, plasmas, and sunlight. Looking backwards in time to the early solar system, the dynamic mixtures of gas and dust found in the protoplanetary nebula could also be a likely abode of electrostatic activity.

Here we review the current state and overall importance of electrostatic processes throughout the solar system in the past and present. Electrostatic activity on Mars is given focused attention, where recent observations designed to detect the presence of atmospheric electricity have been contradictory, thus leaving this tantalizing question open for additional experiments and future missions.

I end by discussing current problems and intriguing new directions for electrostatics research in the context of space and planetary science, ranging from ground-based laboratory experiments, theory and modeling, and exciting new opportunities in the emerging re-usable suborbital vehicle program.

Full paper:

Reply to  Brian Steere
November 30, 2019 9:03 am

Here’s another one for you Brian, developed after much observation and study of the subject and issued in the vein of another “summary judgement”:

Heavy lightning is a proxy for heavy rainfall.

Regarding overhead aerial arc discharges commonly referred to as “lightning” in the vicinity of volcanic activity: no easy, field-study of observable phenomena possible in my area, hence no pronouncements. Additionally, my study of that phenomena has a prerequisite of a WSR-88D (or equivalent) in the vicinity for the observation of aerial precip, and it’s precursors.

Brian Steere
Reply to  _Jim
November 30, 2019 3:15 pm

To produce lightning requires a high voltage differential and a breakdown of the dielectric.
Plasma discharge in arc mode in our atmosphere is called lightning.
The factors that generate the charge difference include frictions that further generate electrostatic charge between regions of differently charged particulates – inc water vapour vesicles.
Also voltage differentials between such regions or among such regions (Volcanic dust) and cloud to cloud or tornado.
Lightning is not only a ‘sky > < Pressure.
How would a junction or a node of such a current in rock behave under great pressures and voltages?

The relation of ice to water to ice has very interesting physics coming from Dr Gerald Pollack's work – all done in a true spirit of reproducible empirical science.

When scientist pronounce – they are speaking of the current or prevailing model. The phenomena are not in doubt if we can experience them by our senses or by indirect measuring equipment. But our framework of interpretation is generally internalised and invisible. This can lead us to a dalek's eye view of the Universe

Reply to  Brian Steere
November 30, 2019 5:35 pm

re: “Brian Steere November 30, 2019 at 3:15 pm
To produce lightning requires a high voltage differential and a breakdown of the dielectric.
Plasma discharge in arc mode in our atmosphere is called lightning.

I do not think you know the HALF of it. Do you understand the stepped leader as described by Uman in his book on lightning? Do you understand that the ‘breakdown’ occurs over distances measured in meters and NOT miles? Stepped leaders on the order of 30 – 50 meters?

re: “To produce lightning requires a high voltage differential and a breakdown of the dielectric.”

Again, simple, and ignores some important physics seen in a gas under a high applied E-field.

And during this so-called “breakdown”, are you at all cognizant of the physics involved in a ‘pinch discharge’ which occurs in a gas displaying as an ‘arc’ and NOT an overall ‘glow’ discharge? I think not. You are ill-prepared for these discussions on this level.

Brian Steere
Reply to  _Jim
December 1, 2019 10:07 am

The qualifications to the simple do not make it untrue.
Yes I am aware of your details.
What exactly is YOUR problem?

Reply to  Brian Steere
November 30, 2019 4:05 pm

re: “You state with conviction that ice is necessary for lightning on Earth?”

You don’t read the “white papers” on this subject do you Brian?

“A model for thundercloud charge separation”
K. Tennakone and Prabath Hewageegana

Abstract- A theoretical model of thundercloud charge separation is presented. The model assume that moisture in the updraft moving as a stream with uniform velocity condenses into particles of graupel [ice] in reaching cooler regions of the atmosphere. Falling graupels [ice] acquire a negative charge by shedding the inductive positive charge which is carried away by the updraft. Charged graupels [ice] moves downward subjected to gravity, force due to the collective electric field and air resistance. …

Reply to  Brian Steere
November 30, 2019 5:26 pm

re: “Volcanic dust is one example.”

Do you over simplify, because, you are unaware of the multitude of factors that work together work together to do “charge separation” and result in overhead aerial arc discharges?

Take for instance figure 2.2 with caption: “Charging mechanisms in plumes including fragmentation charging, triboelectric charging, and dusty thunderstorm charging“. Note furthermore the column labeled “Triboelectric charging” and also the area above the ‘freeze line’ labeled “Silicate-ice particle collisions”.

Note also this text in Section 3: Studies of the distribution of volcanic lightning worldwide demonstrate that some volcanoes produce charged plumes more efficiently than others (McNutt & Williams, 2010). The observed variability in electrical behavior across eruptions and across volcanoes suggests that the generation and separation of charge is modulated by specific eruption parameters such as fragmentation behavior, the properties of the ejected materials (both ash and volatiles), environmental conditions, as well as the dynamics of the plume itself. Therefore, understanding the coupling between the key properties of an eruption and electrical activity, much of which can be studied remotely, may yield information about the internal dynamics of an eruption which would otherwise be opaque to observation (James et al., 1998). Indeed, Behnke and Bruning (Behnke & Bruning, 2015) have recently shown that lightning (and, by association, electrification) could be used to infer changes in eruption kinematics.

Brian Steere
Reply to  _Jim
December 1, 2019 10:09 am

You are agreeing with me. The nature of the medium and the intensity of the charge differential determines the forms of expression.

November 29, 2019 12:12 pm

The Martian dust is highly desiccated and is probably similar to lunar dust. Is it feasible that the dust has become electrically charged due to an increase in cosmic rays secondary to the reduced solar wind, and what is observed is an electrostatic effect as well as a meteorological effect?

November 29, 2019 12:45 pm

Haven’t heard much from Willis . . . he was into dust devils !!! Big time !


November 29, 2019 1:33 pm

Mars is tilted 25° making 24 hour days/spring time over the south pole every 1.8 years. Mars is not very warm with 80° below zero average temperature. But as the temperature increases the southern hemisphere, the temperature drops to near 200° below zero in the northern hemisphere causing a contractual flow of air over the entire planet. Carbon dioxide frost will melt on the sunny side, and redeposit in the endless night side of the northern hemisphere and vice a versa. This affect is enhanced when mars orbit is 20,000,000 miles closer to the sun.
Mars is half the size of earth with 1/10 as much mass having 1/3 the gravity. It’s not big enough to hold an atmosphere because it gets blown away by the solar wind. It’s not an accident that Mars 7- 6 mbar is the threshold for water boiling from a solid into a gas. Mars atmospheric pressure is maintained in theory by dust covered ice below the surface slowly boiling awaywhen atmospheric pressure falls below a certain point, until it is all gone. Do not worry because the polar caps have enough carbon dioxide and water vapor to double the current atmosphere if it was melted.
The warmest place on Mars is still colder than anywhere on earth. You cannot live there without a space suit and heat. There is no denser source of power the nuclear energy. A Mars colony is not possible without it. One exception is the use of nuclear batteries (Hot radioactive plutonium) to melt tunnels in the thick polar cap then using the high-pressure carbon dioxide gas to drive a turban. The tunnels can become dust free clean living quarters insulated by carbon extracted from the polar ice.
Eventually, automated ice mining equipment will feed polar ice material into pressure containers/ spent rocket boosters, through a pressure door where the nuclear batteries will melt the ice into a high-pressure liquid. The nitrogen will remain a gas and be extracted first. The 96% carbon dioxide will be used through a two-stage generator, just as we use water in coal fired power plants on earth, and will produce more electricity than is needed. The sludge in the bottom of the tank, after the carbon dioxide is evaporated, will be mostly water. As the colony grows, the technology and infrastructure will expand to accommodate. The nuclear batteries will be hot for 300 years.
The technology is applicable to all the Ice moons and outer worlds, and may work better with frozen methane and ammonia like Pluto. With a long lasting reliable safe heat source, anything is possible.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Max
November 30, 2019 5:44 am

I never knew Indian head gear could be used that way.

November 29, 2019 1:41 pm

The higher you go in the Marian atmosphere, the more the density approaches that of Earth’s atmosphere at the same height until eventually there is more atmosphere than above Earth at the same height. Check out “scale height” for mars vs Earth.

David S
November 29, 2019 3:05 pm

Its climate change because of all those bloody SUVs; comment image
The Martians are all gonna die in 12 years.

Poor Yorek
December 1, 2019 8:45 am

“But every decade or so, something unpredictable happens”


Johann Wundersamer
December 3, 2019 2:16 pm

“Global dust storms are really unusual,” said Mars Climate Sounder scientist David Kass of JPL. “We really don’t have anything like this on the Earth, where the entire planet’s weather changes for several months.” –

Globalised dust devils:

Brian Steere
Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
December 3, 2019 2:52 pm

What of the future? One avenue of research that is seeing a renaissance is the electric fields generated by dust devils. These were known even in the 1860s, and occasional ‘stamp collecting’ studies have shown that fields of 10s of thousands of volts per meter can be generated. But now with the prospect of electric field measurements at Mars with an instrument on the European ExoMars lander Schiaparelli, systematic field experiments and numerical simulations are bringing a fuller understanding of dust devil electrical effects. Electrical discharges could be important in the formation of soil oxidants such as the perchlorates found by the Phoenix lander.

from an electro-phobic article until this quoted endpiece above

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