How Cirrus Clouds Form — And Why It Matters

May 9, 2013 6:58 PM

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How Cirrus Clouds Form — And Why It Matters

It has long been a mystery exactly what causes the formation of cirrus clouds, the wispy billows of ice that can be seen high in the sky. But new research, detailed in the May 9 issue of the journal Science, finds that the clouds condense and freeze, or nucleate, on very specific mineral and metal particles high in the atmosphere. That makes cirrus clouds unique: Most other clouds form primarily by condensing onto organic particles, said study author Dan Cziczo, an atmospheric chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It's important to know how these clouds form, as they can cover up to 30 percent of the Earth's atmosphere at any given time, and have a big effect on the climate, Cziczo told OurAmazingPlanet.

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