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Ship Tracks Off Coast of Peru’s Piura Region

8S 82.9W

October 6th, 2010 Category: Clouds

Peru - September 24th, 2010

The hashed lines in the clouds off the coast of Peru are long, linear cloud formations are known as ship tracks. These form when water molecules gather around the exhaust that passing ships release into the air, similar to the way condensation trails form in the air around the exhaust of passing airplanes.

Although much of the rainforest area is covered by clouds, Peru’s Piura Region, the tan colored area by the coast at the top of the image, can be observed clearly. “Punta Pariñas” in Piura is South America’s most western point.

The territory of the Piura Region has many climate variations due to its geographical location. It is just 4 degrees south of the equator, yet receives two ocean currents at the same time: the cold Humboldt Current (13-20 °C 55-68 F) and the warm El Niño Current (20-27 °C, 68-80 F). This makes the Piura Region a land that is both tropical and arid at the same time, “The Land where the Tropics meets the Desert”.

Ship Tracks Make Asterisk Pattern in Clouds Off California Coast, USA

35.1N 124.2W

August 18th, 2010 Category: Clouds, Image of the day

USA - August 29th, 2010

USA - August 29th, 2010

The western coast of the United States of America, parallel to California’s Great Central Valley, is lined by thick white clouds. This is a common occurrence in the area due to a combination of atmospheric and oceanographic conditions.

Visible in the lower half of the image are a series of lines in those clouds, creating an almost asterisk-like shape. These long, linear cloud formations are known as ship tracks, since they form when water molecules gather around the exhaust released into the air by passing ships. The phenomenon is similar to that of condensation trails in the air from passing jets.

Ship Tracks and Phytoplankton by Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia

53.7N 161.7E

June 23rd, 2010 Category: Clouds, Phytoplankton

Russia - June 1st, 2010

Russia - June 1st, 2010

This image of the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East contains two interesting atmospheric and oceanographic phenomena: ship tracks, visible in the lower left quadrant, and a phytoplankton bloom, just off the coast of the peninsula in the upper part of the full image.

The ship tracks, which look like long linear clouds, form due to the gathering of water molecules around the exhaust released into the air by passing ships.

The green phytoplankton bloom, which is faint and best observed by opening the full image, is caused by increased reproduction of phytoplankton in an area that leads to a high concentration of those microorganisms and alters the color of the water.

Ship Tracks Off Coast of California – March 21st, 2009

March 21st, 2009 Category: Image of the day

USA - March 19th, 2009

USA - March 19th, 2009

The white streaks in the clouds off the coast of California are not condensation trails caused by airplanes, but rather “ship tracks” from passing ships.

Ship tracks form when water molecules gather around the exhaust ships release into the air. When enough water molecules collect there, a visible cloud is formed. Ship track clouds have a long, string-like form because they stretch over the long, narrow path where the exhaust particles have been blown by the wind.

The particles billowing from ships’ smokestacks enter the air above the eastern Pacific and create long, thin clouds that remain there for days.

This is because the air above the oceans generally suffers from less turbulence and convection than the air above land. The lower atmosphere is especially calm over the eastern Pacific in the summertime due to a layer of hot air that settles in 500 to 700 meters above that region of the ocean.

This effect creates a temperature inversion, placing a cap on the cooler air below, trapping pollutants and water vapor. While the inversion is responsible for the smog that reduces air quality in Los Angeles, it also allows for the formation of long lasting ship tracks.

Ship Tracks South of Alaska

March 17th, 2009 Category: Snapshots

Ship tracks in Pacific Ocean - March 15th, 2009

Ship tracks in Pacific Ocean - March 15th, 2009

Although they seem like condensation trails from passing airplanes, these criss-crossed lines over the Pacific Ocean, south of Alaska, are actually from ships.

Such streaks are called ship tracks.  Ship tracks are 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.

In the case of ship tracks, the cloud seeds are stretched over a long, narrow path where the wind has blown the ship’s exhaust, so the resulting clouds resemble long strings over the ocean.