Clouds: Formation and Types


Clouds: Formation and Types

There is something we all adore about clouds. Taking a closer look at their science makes them just as fascinating as their pretty appearance. Let’s g

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There is something we all adore about clouds. Taking a closer look at their science makes them just as fascinating as their pretty appearance. Let’s get into details about the formation of these white, blue, and sometimes black cloud, their types, and their purpose on this planet. 

Formation of clouds

If we go by the definition – “Clouds are formed by water droplets that are so small and light they are able to stay in the air and appear to us like clouds.” 

But how does the water get up to the sky? How are they shaped differently? What is the science and reason behind the formation? All these questions remained unanswered with this definition that we have been told for years! 

Let’s dig a little deeper into the process of cloud formation: 

What are clouds made of? 

Clouds are defined as a visible aggregate of minute droplets of water/ice, or even a mixture of the two, where each droplet is approximately hundredths of a millimeter in diameter and each cubic meter of air has 100 million droplets, floating in the free air’. 

These tiny droplets are able to remain liquid even at temperatures as low as -30 C, which makes them called supercooled droplets.

How are clouds formed? 

The formation of clouds is hugely affected by evaporation (the process by which a liquid turns into a gas). The water that makes up the clouds get up in the sky as water vapor through evaporation. 

During the course of rising in the atmosphere, the air gets cooler and under less pressure. Once it gets cold, it cannot hold as much water vapor as it was able to hold before, which is called saturation (cannot hold all the water in a vapor form, so it begins condensing).

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Saturation in cloud formation 

Saturation can be reached in two ways: 

  1. By increasing the water content in the air or evaporation. 
  2. By cooling the air until it reaches its dew point – this is the temperature where condensation will begin, and the air cannot retain any more water. 

Cloud Seed and its role in cloud formation 

To transition from a vapor to a liquid, water needs a non-gaseous surface. This process is called condensation. A cloud condensation nucleus (CCN), also known as a cloud seed, condenses water vapor, and it plays a vital role in cloud formation. 

Types of Clouds 

Though the process of forming clouds is pretty standard, they are all different from one another. Their distinct nature and appearance can be reasoned by multiple factors like altitude, environmental changes, seeding process, etc. 

Let’s look into some of these different types of clouds on the basis of their altitude: 

  1. Low-level clouds: Formed at 0-2 km – stratus, cumulus, cumulonimbus, and stratocumulus.
  2. Mid-level clouds: Formed at 2-7 km – altocumulus, altostratus, and nimbostratus.
  3. High-level clouds: Formed at 5-13 km – cirrocumulus, cirrus, and cirrostratus.

Different Ways of Cloud Formation 

There are varied ways in which clouds are formed, let’s look into some of these formations: 

  1. When the atmosphere near the Earth’s surface heats up, clouds are formed – Upon being heated by sunlight, the air just above it rises, and in doing so, its pressure and temperature drop, causing water vapor to condense. It won’t take long for enough moisture to condense out of the air to form a cloud. Some of the clouds that form this way are cumulus, cumulonimbus, and stratocumulus clouds.
  1. The wind blowing into the side of a mountain range is forced upward, higher in the atmosphere, where it cools and forms clouds – Even without a mountain range, this can happen when an airplane flies over land that slopes upward and is forced to rise.Some of the clouds that form this way are lenticular and stratus clouds.
  1. When air is forced upward at areas of low pressure, clouds are formed – There is nowhere else for the winds to go but up once they meet at the center of the low-pressure system. 

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Clouds and their Purpose 

In addition to hurling hail and covering us in snow, clouds have many other effects on our climate. Let’s look at some of ’em: 

  • Heat Barrier in and out of the Earth’s atmosphere. 
  • Have a positive effect on the temperature of Earth.
  • They reflect about 20 percent of the incoming heat back into space.
  • The greatest amount of heat is reflected by low-level clouds, which is why we enjoy cooler temperatures when it is cloudy. 
  • Due to the blanketing effect of clouds, a cloudy night is warmer than a cloudless night.
  • Most of the heat emitted from the atmosphere is absorbed by the high-level clouds, which reradiate some of it back to the Earth’s surface. 

Why do clouds appear in different colors? 

Some of the factors that influence the color of clouds are light, water droplets, and pollution. 

Both skylight and cloud light is scattered sunlight. Because of the small size of the molecules of air (nitrogen and oxygen), the blue part of the spectrum is more strongly scattered than other colors in the sky.

The yellowish/brownish tinge that we sometimes see in a cloud is a sign of air pollution.

Clouds but from a different perspective 

Next time when you’re out with friends/family, look up and take a moment to wonder how these candyfloss-looking clouds are a byproduct of science, environment, and yet another magic of Earth! 

Thank you for reading, if you’re interested in such topics, keep an eye on our blogs as we always keep them updated with topics and information that makes an impact.

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