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Sinking Clouds
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Sinking Clouds

Credit: Saperaud
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mammatus-clouds-Tulsa-1973.png
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Normally, clouds rise in the sky. Water vapor in the air condenses to form droplets of water or ice.  Usually the condensation is around microscopic dust particles.  Cloud movement may be helped by warm air moving up from the ground.  But not all clouds move up.

News You Can Use

  • A mammatus cloud is an unusual formation usually seen after a severe thunderstorm.  They do not indicate a coming tornado, although many people believe this.  Mammatus clouds represent a rare example of a sinking cloud.
  • Sometimes the cloud has a high concentration of droplets and ice particles, making it heavier that the air around it.  This higher density causes the cloud to sink.  As the cloud sinks, it will warm and the particles in it will start to evaporate.  If more energy is needed for evaporation than is produced by the drop in altitude, the cloud will continue to sink.
  • Credit: kiwinz
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kiwinz/3843665665/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Mammatus clouds at sunset [Figure2]


  • Watch the video below of a mammatus cloud shot in Michigan: http://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-orange-bubble-clouds-video-20130726,0,4837916.story

Explore More

With the links below, learn more about clouds. Then answer the following questions.

  1. How are clouds classified? 
  2. What problems arise when satellites are used to detect clouds?
  3. How do mountains influence cloud formation?
  4. What causes cloud iridescence?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Saperaud; Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mammatus-clouds-Tulsa-1973.png; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: kiwinz; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kiwinz/3843665665/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0


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