Bennett Island Cloud

Bennett Island is in the East Siberian Sea, for all our CED readers who did not pass the National Geographic Society's geography test.

For years there has been a mysterious plume, a cloud from the island [Science News 6/27/92]! With the end of the Cold War, the People’s Republic couldn't be the focus of a red-under-every-bed blame. The cloud still comes from the island. Guess what is blamed now. Right. It is global warming. The warming melts the surface and methane escapes and causes the cloud. Theory sans testing makes it into the news so easily these days.

Enter biogenic ice nuclei specialist Russell C. Schnell. He hired a Russian airplane (Rent-a-plane are cheap right now) and went and sampled the plume. No methane above ambient! To get no methane, you don't need to melt the surface and you don't need global warming to blame. Schnell thinks the clouds are water vapor clouds orographically produced over the mountains on the island. Radical!

A large number of similar “cloud plume features” have now been detected on polar-orbiting satellite imagery by NOAAs GMISS program in that same region since the 1970s and 1980s, but the explanation for their cause and composition (volcanic ash? methane plume? secret Soviet nuclear weapons testing?) remained elusive until aircraft studies in the 1990s determined that they were orographically-induced cloud plumes, enhanced by a vertically propagating mountain wave. Careful. The mountain is not going up or down. As the air crosses a mountain an up-and-down motion of the plume of air has a wave-like motion.

GMISS images and data are now available for the Alaskan region of the Arctic and the Toolik and Bonanza Creek LTERs. The GMISS operates a blog to outreach to the user community.

We will return to Russell Schnell when we open discussion on biogenic ice nuclei.

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