Over the last couple of days Tony and I both blogged about the discovery that thunderstorms (lightning) produce gamma rays and “beam” antimatter out into space. Pretty amazing. Just when you thought there wasn’t much new stuff to learn about the weather and atmosphere here comes antimatter! If you enjoyed learning a little bit more about the high energy physics of lightning, then I have some other new and interesting things about the weather and atmosphere that you might find interesting:
Somewhat similar to the anti-matter story, a Swiss company (Meteo Systems) claims to have increased rainfall in the desert using ionization. They claim that 52 unanticipatedrain storms occurred because of their rain-making process. Most meteorologists remain quite skeptical. How does it work. Meteo systems erects tall metal poles with wire mesh on the ends. These poles are electrified and emit ions. Ions are charged particles. Most molecules in the air are essentially neutral (like oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide). An “ion” would be a negatively or positively charged molecule of oxygen or nitrogen, for example. The ions are supposed to work by attaching to cloud droplets. These ions then extend the life of the cloud droplets, allowing more time for them to grow into raindrops. It sounds like a success, however, it will need to be proven over the course of several seasons, before more people believe it is a true rain-making (or rain-enhancing) process.
How about this: Weather could trigger earthquakes. Scientists studying last year’s devastating earthquake in Haiti suggest that a prior flooding rain event and landslide might have been the “trigger”. It is important to note that it is not claimed that the weather creates or is the source of earthquakes, only that it might be the trigger in some cases. When you think about it in detail, this revelation is not too earth-shattering. Large earthquakes happen because of the shifting crust of the earth. Pressure builds up along fault zones in the crust and once in a while they move, creating an earthquake. Just think of holding two bricks against each other with your hands. If you wanted to rub them back and forth against each other, it requires a certain amount of force. If you only pushed lightly, the bricks would not move. Within the earth along a fault zone there is a little pressure that builds up over time and then all of a sudden the two pieces of crust move or slip by each other (like the bricks). As the pressure is building up, if a flood and landslide change the amount of mass above or around the fault zone, or changes the consistency of the soil and bedrock (making it more wet), that could change the pressure within the fault just enough to trigger an earthquake that had been building up for a while. Thus, the weather can trigger earthquakes.
How about another reason to complain about “light pollution”. Night lights can make air pollution up to 7 percent worse. How does this happen? Lights emit energy in the form of, well, light – or electromagnetic radiation. This light interacts with molecules in the air to create certain types of volatile organic pollutants. This effect is much less that what happens with the sun during the day (a lot more energy comes from the sun, of course), but I am still surprised that it is measurable.
Speaking of pollution, computer simulations have shown that polluted air (with a lot of soot/aerosols) can change the structure of thunderstorms. Cumulonimbus/thunderclouds that form in polluted air have much bigger anvils than those that form in cleaner air. The pollution leads to the formation of more ice crystals which then spread out into bigger anvils at the top storm cloud. How this might affect the weather and climate is yet to be determined.
Finally, from the realm of speculative physics (and off the subject of weather – but its cool) is a proposal to create matter from nothing – or more technically speaking from the “vaccuum“. The experiment rests on the interpretation of the vacuum (an area of space-time with no “matter” in it) as being a combination of matter and anti-matter. When the two are combined, their effects cancel each other out and we cannot observe them. The scientists propose to use an electron beam and a laser to tease the matter and anti-matter out of its unobservable vaccuum state and thus bring mass into our observable universe. It is theorized that this happens in nature around neutron stars.
Have a good Thursday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
Posted under Natural Disasters, Pollution, Science, Storms
This post was written by jloew on January 13, 2011