Phenomena

Wave Clouds

Wave clouds

Stripe-like wave clouds can often form downstream of mountains. This satellite image shows such clouds in the South Pacific where rocky mountains jut 600 meters (2,000 ft) above the sea. This disrupts air flowing east by forcing it to move up and over the island topography. The air does not simply settle back down on the other side, though. It must come back into equilibrium with its surroundings in terms of density and temperature. While doing so it will travel up and down along a wavy path. As it reaches the crest of the wave, humid air cooling condenses and forms a cloud. At troughs, the air warms and the condensation disappears. This creates the stripey cloud pattern in the mountain’s wake, which fades out as the atmospheric gravity waves die out. (Image credit: NASA/J. Schmaltz; via NASA Earth Observatory)

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