April 21, 2006

Ship tracks

A maze of long white clouds is interwoven into the uneven field of white that covers the Atlantic Ocean off the east coast of the United States. Though these clouds resemble airplane contrails, they are actually ship tracks, clouds that form around the exhaust released by ships into the still ocean air. Water molecules collect around the tiny particles (aerosols) from exhaust to form a cloud seed. More and more water accumulates on the seed until a visible cloud is formed.

Ship tracks are a part of climate change and demonstrate how human activity can result in cooling of the climate. More clouds mean that more solar radiation is reflected directly to space. The effect of ship exhaust is to give clouds that have more and smaller droplets, and therefore a higher reflectivity. Such clouds are not as likely to result in rain.


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