Mysterious Moisture in the Mesosphere

Posted: June 21, 2019 by oldbrew in atmosphere, Clouds, Uncertainty

More on the mysteries behind noctilucent clouds. Lots of extra water vapour has turned up this season that can’t easily be explained.

June 19, 2019: The 2019 season for noctilucent clouds (NLCs) has been remarkable, maybe the best ever, with NLCs appearing as far south as Los Angeles CA and Albuquerque NM. What’s going on? Researchers aren’t sure, but Lynn Harvey of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics has just found an important clue.

“The mesosphere is quite wet,” she says. “Water vapor concentrations are at their highest levels for the past 12 years.”

electricblueNoctilucent clouds over Piwnice, Poland, on June 18th. Credit: Piotr Majewski

Noctilucent clouds form when summertime wisps of water vapor rise to the top of the atmosphere. Water molecules stick to specks of meteor smoke, gathering into icy clouds that glow electric blue when they are hit by high altitude sunlight.

When noctilucent clouds began appearing at unusually low latitudes in early June, Harvey took a look at data from NASA’s Microwave…

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  1. oldbrew says:

    Dr Tony Phillips noted this study:

    Satellite observations of polar mesospheric clouds by the solar backscattered ultraviolet spectral radiometer: Evidence of a solar cycle dependence

    Gary E. Thomas Richard D. McPeters Eric J. Jensen
    First published: 20 January 1991

    …indicates an anticorrelation with solar activity, an effect that also appears to be present in noctilucent cloud sightings over the past several decades.

    – – –
    Meteorite theories of NLCs could be overrated.

  2. ivan says:

    With all this new information it would appear that all the climatologists models of the atmosphere are totally wrong and should be discarded out of hand.

  3. oldbrew says:

    Sprites on view as well: ‘This may be the first time that a sprite’s reflection has been captured in water.’

    “These types of events are quite rare. You need a big, active mesoscale convective system to produce them.”
    From: (date = June 21 2019)

  4. Terry says:

    We have them tonight in Northumberland.

  5. oldbrew says:

    As we enter perhaps the deepest solar minimum of the past century, extreme ultraviolet radiation from the sun is at its lowest level in a decade–a deficit that can lead directly to more noctilucent clouds. Coincidentally, the 2019 season for noctilucent clouds began in late May just as the sun entered a period of sustained spotlessness – now up to 31 days in a row.
    – – –
    Now at 33 days in a row.

    Experts Predict a Long, Deep Solar Minimum
    – – –
    Search for ‘nocti’ here…

    Some interesting ideas, maybe a bit far out sometimes. Related to geo-engineering and so on.

  6. oldbrew says:

    From NASA:

    Meteor smoke explains much about NLCs, but a key mystery remains: Why are the clouds brightening and spreading?
    . . .
    “When methane makes its way into the upper atmosphere, it is oxidized by a complex series of reactions to form water vapor. This extra water vapor is then available to grow ice crystals for NLCs.”

    If this idea is correct, noctilucent clouds are a sort of “canary in a coal mine” for one of the most important greenhouse gases.

    And that, says Russell, is a great reason to study them. “Noctilucent clouds might look alien, but they’re telling us something very important about our own planet.”

  7. oldbrew says:

    NLCs reach Paris.

    Extreme Noctilucent Clouds over Europe
    JUNE 23, 2019 / DR.TONY PHILLIPS

    What do you get when you mix the summer solstice with one of the deepest Solar Minima in a century? Extreme noctilucent clouds.

  8. oldbrew says:

    JUNE 17, 2019
    Meteors help Martian clouds form
    by University of Colorado at Boulder

    How did the Red Planet get all of its clouds? CU Boulder researchers may have discovered the secret: just add meteors.

    Astronomers have long observed clouds in Mars’ middle atmosphere, which begins about 18 miles (30 kilometers) above the surface, but have struggled to explain how they formed.

    Now, a new study, which will be published on June 17 in the journal Nature Geoscience, examines those wispy accumulations and suggests that they owe their existence to a phenomenon called “meteoric smoke”—essentially, the icy dust created by space debris slamming into the planet’s atmosphere.
    – – –
    What about the famous Martian dust storms?

  9. dscott says:

    Has earth’s albedo increased as a result?

  10. oldbrew says:

    dscott – possibly, some research here…

    First results on the retrieval of noctilucent cloud albedo and occurrence rate from SCIAMACHY/Envisat satellite nadir measurements

    See also:
    Solar-induced 27-day variations of mesospheric temperature and water vapor from the AIM SOFIE experiment: Drivers of polar mesospheric cloud variability

  11. Damian says:

    The Perseid’s are due to peak around the 11th12th13th of august.

    If NLCs are due to meteor smoke, we should see an increase in NLCs around the Persied’s peak?

  12. oldbrew says:

    Damien – high-altitude moisture is also a factor, and seems to be lasting longer than usual this year.

    2019 has been a very unusual year for noctilucent clouds, with sightings at record-low latitudes as far south as New Mexico and southern California. Why? NASA satellites have detected unusual amounts of water in the mesosphere. The extra moisture crystallized around specks of meteor smoke, creating an abundance of NLCs. If this trend continues, August might be a good month for NLCs contrary to normal seasonal patterns. [date param. = August 1, 2019]

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