Phenomena

Bright Volcanic Clouds

A bright cloud trail forms downwind of Mt Michael in this false-color satellite image.

Every day human activity pumps aerosol particles into the atmosphere, potentially altering our weather patterns. But tracking the effects of those emissions is difficult with so many variables changing at once. It’s easier to see how such particles affect weather patterns somewhere like the Sandwich Islands, where we can observe the effects of a single, known source like a volcano.

That’s what we see in this false-color satellite image. Mount Michael has a permanent lava lake in its central crater, and so often releases sulfur dioxide and other gases. As those gases rise and mix with the passing atmosphere, they can create bright, persistent cloud trails like the one seen here. The brightening comes from the additional small cloud droplets that form around the extra particles emitted from the volcano.

As a bonus, this image includes some extra fluid dynamical goodness. Check out the wave clouds and von Karman vortices in the wake of the neighboring islands! (Image credit: J. Stevens; via NASA Earth Observatory)

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