Asperitas Formation

In 2017, the World Meteorological Organization named a new cloud type: the wave-like asperitas cloud. How these rare and distinctive clouds form is still a matter of debate, but this new study suggests that they need conditions similar to those that produce mammatus clouds, plus some added shear.

Using direct numerical simulations, the authors studied a moisture-filled cloud layer sitting above drier ambient air. Without shear, large droplets in this cloud layer slowly settle downward. As the droplets evaporate, they cool the area just below the cloud, changing the density and creating a Rayleigh-Taylor-like instability. This is one proposed mechanism for mammatus clouds, which have bulbous shapes that sink down from the cloud.

When they added shear to the simulation, the authors found that instead of mammatus clouds, they observed asperitas ones. But the amount of shear had to be just right. Too little shear produced mammatus clouds; too much and the shear smeared out the sinking lobes before they could form asperitas waves. (Image credit: A. Beatson; research credit: S. Ravichandran and R. Govindarajan)

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