The Mechanisms of Cloud Formation

By Munkaila Musah | Published

Explaining the mechanisms of cloud formation by mimicking mixing events of hot air and cold air above the Keweenaw Waterway—in the lab

Atmospheric science researchers at Michigan Tech are modeling the potential of cloud formation and delving into understanding its mechanisms. In early autumn, when the Keweenaw Waterway is warm from summer, fog settles on the water. This is observed as a beautiful white fluffy cloud on the top of the waterway. This amazing cloud is mimicked in the lab by Michigan Tech scientists to better understand the physics of cloud mixing.

The National Science Foundation funded this project to develop a facility to create cloud conditions in the atmosphere in controlled repeatable settings.

As Will Cantrell, professor of physics, says, “Mixing events of hot air from the lake and cold air above it stimulates and creates clouds that burn off around 10 a.m.” He further explains that creating cloud chambers in laboratory settings gives scientists the luxury of watching these conditions for a day at a time. Cloud conditions change rapidly in the atmosphere, posing a challenge in their study; in laboratory settings where conditions are automated, enough time is created for understanding mechanisms.

Cloud formation research will give scientists confidence in the conclusions from the mechanisms of mixing clouds.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.