Phenomena

Crisscrossing Clouds

This natural-color satellite image shows crisscrossing cloud patterns off coastal Africa. These distinctive lines in the sky are gravity waves, and they form when air masses get displaced upward by terrain or other conditions. In this case, dry air cooled overnight on land before moving out over the ocean. That displaced warm, humid air above the water and forced it upward, where it eventually cooled and condensed into clouds. Gravity created the ripple-like waves; as the moist air cooled, gravity again pulled it downward – leaving behind a clear sky. Once the humid air sank, the dry air pushed it up again, creating another line of clouds and continuing the cycle.  (Image credit: NASA; via NASA Earth Observatory)

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