23 May 2009

Contrails over Barcelona

When travelling on planes, I'm glued to the window searching for other aircraft which is fun to do in high traffic areas such as continental Europe or America.

If certain weather conditions are present, particularly at higher altitudes with just the right mix of colder temperatures and humidity, aircraft will leave contrails. The hot engine exhaust turns water vapour (present in the atmosphere) into ice crystals which show as the white trail behind the planes. The trails may disappear quite quickly; at other times they will hang around and often disperse into thin cirrus sheets across the sky - depending on the weather conditions.

While performing an internet search on what forms contrails, I came across more websites set up by people and organisations which claim that contrails are actually "chemtrails", than I did find sites explaining what contrails actually are. These chemtrail sites propose that the planes are deliberately releasing other chemicals into the skies as part of weather control experiments or other sinister plots. Reading the Wikipedia entry will give you some idea of some of the theories that are out there.

One website stands out as a voice of reason in the soup of conspiracy - Contrail Science. Calling himself Uncinus, the website owner endeavours to scientifically explain the theories behind contrails, with some interesting historical analogies and amazing images. I especially like those of the bomber and fighter squadrons in WWII. Reading some of the comments left by the non-believers can be quite entertaining, and at the same time - if you're not a conspiracy theorist on this subject - it's scary to think that there are people out there who have partaken of the Chemtrail Koolaid and believe. Each to his own - I have some particular theories about certain topics that also make people raise their eyebrows and edge for the nearest door, whilst phoning the nearest mental health institution to summon the men bearing a straitjacket in my size.

It's also interesting to read reports about recent inquiries as to what the contrails are, from people who have seemingly never noticed them before. Given the increased air traffic over the years, these people have either lived in remote areas far away from aircraft flight paths; have never looked up into the sky for any length of time, or have not travelled. A recent thread in a Dubai Forum that I follow also had a member asking what the white trails were in the sky recently over the UAE. (They're not uncommon - I used to see them over Dubai when we lived there.)

I liken this to the theory around one of Captain James Cook's encounters with the Australian aborigine. As he sailed Endeavour up the Oz east coast, and close off a beach as they performed fathoming and mapping exercises, a group of aborigines was spotted walking along the sand. Cook's crew whistled and called out to them, but the aborigines never once acknowledged the boat or the noises - it was if they couldn't see it or hear anything.

This would certainly have been their first encounter with a vessel of this size and type, as well as with white men, so how could they not see it and react in some way? It would be like modern day man being approached by a spaceship or foreign beings from another planet, or actually seeing a real USS Enterprise cruise by.

Cook's theory was, that because the boat and his crew were so alien, the aborigines' minds/brains could not get around the concept of something like this appearing in their world, and they could not interpret what was unfamiliar to them. A old time version of cannot compute.

Cook's thoughts would blow the ending of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto out of the water. It also makes me wonder if there are things in our world that we also don't see because our brains can't decipher what they are, as they don't relate to what we perceive or recognise as being "normal". In other words, some of the people on this planet who see things, that others don't, (ghosts or UFOs for example), might actually be seeing them while others cannot.

I digress - back to contrails.

Barcelona seems to be at the crossroads of a lot of high altitude aircraft movement. At any time of the day, I can look up to see jets passing at over 30,000', contrails forming behind them given the right conditions. They generally pass in an north-south direction between continental Europe and Africa, or east-west between Asia/Middle East and America, or perhaps the UK.

Last Wednesday morning, I stepped out onto our balcony to find contrails strewn across the sky. My tiny mind was quite excited by the scene, and I had to call J out as well. After oohing and aahing for 3 seconds, she headed back indoors, shaking her head; fingertips itching to reach for her phone to call for that straitjacket in my size.

Grabbing my camera, I watched 2 planes converge at roughly the same altitude; one flying north-south and the other west-east, with the west-east aircraft doing a big swerve in order for them to pass at the required safe distance.

Another 2 planes crossed over shortly after this and added to the pattern.

There was a light westerly wind blowing, but it wasn't strong enough to dissolve the contrails; instead they started to spread out to become a thin cirrus layer.

I photographed over a 10 minute period before being summonsed indoors for breakfast. The past few days have seen repeats of the contrail spreads.

As for contrails being chemtrails: that's a wee bit beyond my credible comprehension, and as a frequent traveller around this planet and a somewhat logical thinker, I believe that if planes didn't show some sort of visible exhaust, then they would be the only combustible engined vessels to do so.

Are they weather experiments? Not by design. When spread over the sky as light cirrus, contrails do have a slight effect on lowering ambient temperature and reducing the sun's direct warming and lighting effect. As a photographer, that haze produces lighting similar to one giant, glorious, diffused softbox in a studio which eliminates high contrast and dark shadow areas - perfect for photographing people in most situations. As a sunlover who loves the warmth, I hate it.

That's my theory and I'm sticking to it.

Above all, I'm still clinging to the girlish wonder that comes from appreciating beauty in science and technology as well as in nature.


Aussie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aussie said...

Okay. In that second last pic the building has obviously come out of the sky and just been plonked there. Clear case of alien plot; probably with assitance of renogade humans.

As you can see I'm with the conspiracy theorists, it's just that they've got the wrong conspiracy!

Slightly more seriously ... I'd never heard of contrails before today, but co-incidentally had my head buried in 'Cloudspotter's Guide' for a fair portion of the day. The writer introduces the concept of contrails by talking about a caveman 50,000 years ago grunting something akin to 'Honey, get out here quick - you're missing a fabulous display of Altocumulus stratiformis perlucidus!' The author points out that we may think that the caveman saw the same clouds we see today, and he did, apart from the new type of cloud which first arrived in WW1; the condensation trail or 'contrail.'

The writer neatly comments that they are man-made and have the abstract simplicity of a Mondrian painting from his later years.

Apparently there are 'distrails' too (dissipitation trails) when plane exhaust cuts a corridor through a cloud that's at high altitude.

nzm said...

Aussie: There's a building in my images? :-)

The caveman analogy can be applied to me calling J out onto the verandah to look at the contrails!

Uncinus over at Contrail Science also has images of distrails.

There were mammatus clouds somewhere over Spain today - I came back into the room to see the images on TV but didn't catch where they were.

I find those clouds to be really fascinating - as well as lenticulars.

Darlene said...

you and Rob can discuss your chemtrail theories when we get there!

nzm said...

I've seen Rob's Facebook comments about them, and have stayed well away. I think that this is a subject where we'll have to agree to disagree!