Phenomena

Crisscrossing Wave Clouds

Wave clouds crisscross the wake of the Sandwich Islands.

Crisscrossing lines of wave clouds mark the wake of the Sandwich Islands in this satellite image. The tallest islands in the chain thrust rocky peaks more than 1000 meters above sea level, disrupting winds flowing across the ocean. Incoming air is forced up and over the mountain, which puts it at odds with the surrounding air at that height.

Due to differences in temperature and density, the disrupted air will continue to rise and sink periodically as it flows onward. At some heights it will cool enough to condense its water vapor into clouds, and at others, it will warm enough to lose any cloud cover. This is what creates the bands of clouds we see behind each individual island. (Image credit: L. Dauphin/NASA; via NASA Earth Observatory)

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