Shedding New Light on Clouds

The source article for yesterday’s post Life in the Clouds, which dealt with microbes catalysing freezing of water droplets in clouds, jogged something in my memory.  The paragraph in question said:

A little mineral crystal can act as a template, coaxing water molecules on its surface to organise into the hexagonal lattice of an ice crystal.  …  But a cloud droplet that is just slightly wider than a red blood cell may contain only one such particle.  In order for this particle to nucleate ice crystals, it needs to have just the right shape and give off minute attractive and repulsive atomic forces in just the right places so that Hs and Os in those H2O molecules stick to the particle in the right hexagonal pattern.

I remembered some time back seeing a video on “molecular ordering in water”.  I’ve managed to find it again. It is a lecture by Dr Gerry Pollack of the Bioengineering Faculty at the University of Washington.  Prepare to commit to an hour of watching this, to be a little skeptical (at first), and yet to be amazed.  Stick with it I beg you – it will change your thinking.

I do like the way he acknowledges just how challenging this is (to conventional science) and doesn’t overblow it or make wild claims for it.

They key points (for clouds) are that we have an effect of light causing ordering and potentially charge separation.  I probably need to watch the video again to understand if there is a fundamental requirement of a surface, or indeed a specific kind of surface, for simple charge separation in the exclusion zone.  If anyone else picks that up, do comment as I’ll be travelling for the rest of today.

The results have implications for cloud coalescence, and may help the understanding of  influences on cloud formation.  Comments about cosmic rays anyone?

I found myself thinking about mists and fogs which form after sunset and don’t exhibit the ‘blobbiness’ of cloud.

Some wavelengths of light are more efficacious than others, so it struck me that the small variation in TSI and UV light we see during the solar cycle might be amplified by atmospheric reductions in wavelengths reaching cloud-forming level. I think  Haven’t we seen an increase in low-level cloud recently (I’ll post the link if anyone has it to hand)? And again I keep thinking of Willis E’s Thunderstorm Thermostat Hypothesis.

Solar irradiance spectrum above atmosphere and at surface (Source: Wikipedia)

This might all seem far-fetched or an extrapolation too far, but consider this – the best innovative thinking often happens at the interface of disciplines. If you don’t agree, here are some commercial examples. It’s where I see science at in my day job and it is also being encouraged by funding bodies.

Once again it seems that for all we know, in many ways we know nothing.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s clouds illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all  (Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now)

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17 Responses to Shedding New Light on Clouds

  1. peter azlac says:

    Hi Verity – a fascinating video that makes one wonder to what extent the Sun is controlling clouds directly via a Belousov-Zhabotinsky type reaction that so neatly reproduces something similar to what we see in SST:

    As a retired scientist I was also struck by his statement that much of the research he and colleagues have done was a repeat of what had been done pre 1950. It is so often the case that the real meaning of research is just that – to go back and search the literature. There one often finds that the research has been done previously, at least in theory, and is either waiting for advances in measuring equipment or mathematics e.g. the mathematics of chaos theory, or as happened in this case a new false “theory” became the fashion as with AGW “theory”. A good example is atomic theory that was first proposed by Democritus, who is often considered to have been the first scientist, and who lived between 460 – 370 BC. Due to the dogma of a well known religion his ideas had to wait another 2000 yeas before surfacing in Dalton’s atomic theory. The 35 year gap that was mentioned also relates to the well known saying in research that “it advances by funerals” as dominant scientists die off. Let us hope we do not have to wait another 30 years for this to apply to AGW “theory” and its dogma, but it may be that it will take the depth of the next Grand Minimum in c.a. 2040 to achieve this end.

    • Verity Jones says:

      It is common for scientists now to dismiss anything pre-digital. Exactly as you say – research should start with going back to search the literature. Unfortunately most academics I know are so busy that they leave it to their grad students to keep them up to date with the literature. I’d like to think the better grad students do go back to very old publications but they are probably the exception.
      I can think of a few areas where molecular biological tools are now picking up and describing mechanisms for things which I am sure have been observed or described before – perhaps in the 1970s using classical biochemistry, but it is rare for researchers today to even look that far back in the literature. I am sure that is a mistake. The information overload and our ‘hurried’ society makes it all too easy to overlook older work.

  2. Doug Cotton says:

    Yes, it is indeed interesting to note the absorbed incident solar radiation, especially that around 2 microns which is absorbed by carbon dioxide. This radiation has five times the energy per photon as does 10 micron IR from the surface. Consider the cooling effect! Then consider the following which explains why there is no warming effect ….

    In my view we need to focus on the assumed problem, namely carbon dioxide and, to a lesser extent, methane perhaps. If I refer to trace gases take it to mean these, because I refuse to call them greenhouse gases.

    We have what we have in the Earth’s total system. Somehow, in some way we may never fully understand, a long-term near equilibrium situation has developed. We have some energy being generated in the core, mantle and crust, most likely by fission I think, but I won’t go into that. But it does set up a temperature gradient from the core to the surface which is very stable below the outer kilometre or so of the crust. However, it may vary in long-term natural cycles that have something to do with planetary orbits. Likewise, the intensity of solar radiation getting through the atmosphere to the surface may also vary in natural cycles which may have something to do with planetary influences on the Sun, and on the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit and on cosmic ray intensity and on cloud cover, ENSO cycles etc.

    There is much to be learned about such natural cycles, and we have seen papers by Nicola Scafetta for example which appear to provide compelling evidence of the natural cycles. I believe that in fact such natural cycles are quite sufficient to explain all observed climate change, including what has happened in the last half century or so, right up to the present. The world has just been alarmed because the 1000 year cycle and the 60 year cycle were both rising around 1970 to 1998, just as they did by about the same amount 60 years earlier, and 60 years before that and no doubt further back. We cannot escape the obvious fact that there is a ~1000 year cycle which is due for another maximum within 50 to 200 years. Then there will be 500 years of falling temperatures.

    [snip – off topic]

    Reply – Doug thank you for your comment. Anyone who wants to read/discuss Doug’s paper may do so on this thread. We will not discuss it here.

  3. Bloke down the pub says:

    It makes the structure of snowflakes seem inevitable. One of those topics that in twenty years time, people will look back and wonder whyit took science so long to figure it out.

    • Verity Jones says:

      It amazes me that we take the surface tension of water for granted yet noone has really looked into what happens at a molecular level. Here’s a question – if light has an effect on the depth of the exclusion zone and how water ‘stacks’, inclusing affecting surface tension, does that mean surface tension diminishes at night? I wonder if there’s a bit of kitchen chemistry to be done to investigate.

      • Bloke down the pub says:

        From what I gathered from the video, once the liquid crystal has formed into a strong lattice the absence of light would not of itself cause the crystal, and therefore the surface tension, to break down. I’d like to hear what kitchen chemistry you had in mind.

      • Verity Jones says:

        OK glad you got that from the video. Perhaps I just had this fanciful idea that light would increase surface tension in the way it increased the boundary layer and charge separation. Of course bringing out the child in me – not from any theoretical considerations 😉

        Well, what I was thinking re ‘kitchen chemistry’ was floating ‘things’ of various mass (or mass/footprint ratio) on surface tension in light then putting them in darkness and seeing if the surface tension holds up. If the light increases the ordering and the thickness of the boundary layer then it should support greater mass. This would need to be tested statistically – large numbers of identical glasses of water with numerous replicates of particles – glass microspheres of different sizes would be ideal since you can float dry sand on water. Actually I’ve seen coins floated on water (I wonder if they sink when the light goes out?). I can imagine that the strength and order of the liquid crystal would be somewhat temperature dependent also.

      • Bloke down the pub says:

        I’ve tried a small scale kitchen experiment. Small scale because I could only muster a dozen suitable glasses. As the affect on rain drop formation was at the heart of the experiment, I used fresh rainwater in twelve wine glasses. The objects I chose to float on the surface tension were pins of the sort that hold a new shirt in place in its packaging. They were chosen for their availability and the knowledge that I stood a reasonable chance of getting them to float.
        The twelve glasses were filled to near the brim and then left for an hour in bright light to allow the surface tension to form. I then attempted to float the pins on the water. I was successful in 75% of cases but in the remaining glasses could not get the pin to float no matter how I tried. Of the glasses with floating pins, four(group A) were then covered with a beaker to exclude light and they were all then inspected every 30mins to see which ones remained afloat. The first one to sink was from the uncovered group(goup B). Over the next two hours all bar one had sunk, evenly sampled from each group. The exception was a pin from group B which as I write is still afloat over 48 hours later.
        My conclusions from this is that there is no discernable degradation of the liquid crystal structure caused by lack of light.
        I make no claims for the accuracy of this experiment except to say that it’s probably good enough for a grant application at UAE or Penn State.

      • Verity Jones says:

        Oh very good! However, somehow I think for your grant application to merit a second glance, you’d have to examine the effects of increasing CO2 or warming on surface tension too 😉

      • Bloke down the pub says:

        Update on the experiment. The last pin finally sunk after 204hrs. I think it might still be going strong if I hadn’t dropped a newspaper on it.

      • Floating pins is one thing; trying to float a newspaper displays massive hubris, a misplaced belief in the strength of inter-molecular bonds, and/or a possible bid for a Nobel Prize. Was the progression to heavier and larger objects intended to extend to walking on water? Michael Mann’s already done that, albeit with the aid of a hockey-stick and inflated ego for support.

  4. Doug Cotton says:

    The publications at Principia Scientific International show why carbon dioxide has absolutely no effect on climate, so sensitivity is zero. See, for example, my peer-reviewed paper Radiated Energy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics on the site.

    I am proud to be an active member of PSI and, as such, I am in daily email contact with many of these main stream scientists, including professors and PhD’s in various disciplines such as physics, applied mathematics, chemistry, climatology and astro physics. The numbers are approaching 40, including well known new members just announced.

    What I write are not just my theories. We are all in agreement that standard physics and empirical results back us up.

    [Reply – yet so many skeptics disagree with you and you cannot show a mathematical proof of your theories, which are so at odds with classical thermodynamics. Verity]

  5. Ignoring Cotton’s incessant trolling for a moment, I think this is a good theory. I can’t find any pictures or diagrams of silver iodide crystals, but I’m sure they’re flat hexagons with consequent internal 120° angles, which might well have a bearing on their ability to “seed” clouds. I worked for several years in the Kodak Reasearch Lab. in the UK, and it’s many years ago, but I recall seeing micrographs and electron microscope images with the characteristic hexagon shape.

    • Verity Jones says:
      “If silver and bromide solutions are added under appropriate conditions to a silver iodide “seed” emulsion, silver bromide is deposited on certain faces of each silver iodide crystal. As the growth continues, the silver iodide dissolves and is reincorporated along with the bromide, in “twinned” silver iodobromide crystals. Continued growth at high pAg gives flat hexagonal plates.”

      • Wow! A blast from the past! I’ve worked with many of the processes described in your link. My one (and un-remarked) claim to fame is that I was the one (yes, just one!) who prepared the three colour emulsions in sample quantities to test the efficacy of different “colour couplers” for a “new, improved” Ektachrome colour film in 1967/8. These couplers are complex compounds akin to dyes, which produce the dye colour in each emulsion coating during the second development in the reversal process, to produce the transparent colour image used in slides.

        The work had to be done in (almost) total darkness, except for tiny neon-type bulbs strategically placed so you didn’t bump into things, and heavily shielded to avoid exposing the emulsion to inappropriate light.. Each emulsion was sensitive to a different colour “band”, so you had to make sure to only switch on the appropriate, very dim, barely visible and tiny “trail lights” below work surfaces. Some variants were so sensitive that total darkness was required. All containers had to be in exactly the right place, and labelled with “Dymo” embossed tape or dots of paint so you could feel the letters or dots if in any doubt.

        Using the wrong lights or dropping or spilling a beaker containing an emulsion (a suspension of the couplers in a warm gelatine solution containing the silver halide crystals) could mean hours or even days lost, not to mention ruined suede shoes (all the rage then). I’ve had excellemt night vision since, but perhaps it’s just that I developed (no pun!) expertise in recognising objects and shapes in near total darkness, BTW, all races have the same skin colour in the dark.

      • Verity Jones says:

        Thank you for sharing that – its little pieces of personal experience and stories like that that make blogging so enjoyable.

      • Working in a prestigious lab. was a privilege. there were individual labs. within the building – physical chemistry, organic chemistry, surface physics, radiographics (x-ray technology and film), spectroscopy, even a glass-blowing workshop to produce bespoke and often very complex glassware, a fully equipped workshop where I later learned to use a screw-cutting lathe – most of the equipment used was specialised, and had to be made on site. It was not uncommon to see chemists and physicists side-by-side turning, sawing or drilling aluminium, perspex etc. We had to make our own printed circuit boards, and I visited a ground-breaking micro-chip manufacturer to see the silicon wafers being turned into chips. I was given a sample of their latest pride and joy, a working four-transistor amplifier circuit mounted under glass with a magnifier on top, and six connecting wires beneath. We were amazed – FOUR transistors on a circuit the size of a full-stop! If we’d been told where this new technology would lead we’d have laughed in disbelief. Even four transistors was amazing. Alas the chip got lost somewhere in a house move. I bet it’d be worth a fair bit as a curiosity these days. They were exciting times, and I recall that even without speaking much about it, we all realised it.

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