A Look at Clouds from All Sides Now
by Marcia Goodrich, senior writer
Clouds play a crucial part in regulating climate, but precious little is actually known about clouds' inner workings and their role on Earth. A group of Michigan Tech's scientists hopes to change that, thanks to a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
The grant provides the lion's share of the funding for a chamber that will allow researchers to study cloud processes under realistic temperatures, pressures and humidity levels, mimicking conditions from sea level to the lower levels of the stratosphere, where jet planes fly.
The chamber, to be located in the Great Lakes Research Center, won't be built until later in 2011, but lead investigator Raymond Shaw expects it will be in the shape of a cylinder, two meters in diameter and one meter high. "With a volume of pi, we have taken to calling it the pi can," says Shaw, a professor of physics.
One thing that makes the pi can special will be its ability to recreate something that all air travelers are familiar with: turbulence. "We will be able to cool the top surface of the chamber and heat the bottom, so air plumes are constantly rising and falling, mixing and stirring, creating a fluctuating, but well characterized, environment for cloud formation," Shaw says.
Clouds are much more important than most people give them credit for, he says. "If you imagine looking at the Earth from outer space, what you see is really only a little bit of earth. You actually see a lot more clouds and oceans. We call it Planet Earth, but it's really Planet Cloud."
To find out more, go to Michigan Tech News .