I catch clouds for a liv­ing

Popular Science - - TALES FIELD -

DANIEL CZICZO, AS­SO­CI­ATE PROF. AT MIT’S DEPART­MENT OF EARTH, AT­MO­SPHERIC AND PLANETARY SCIENCES

I study clouds be­cause they both trap heat and re­flect so­lar ra­di­a­tion to cool us. So fig­ur­ing out their net ef­fect helps us cre­ate cli­mate mod­els as the planet warms.

The wa­ter droplets and ice crys­tals that form clouds only start gath­er­ing to­gether when they cling to tiny par­ti­cles—lit­tle cloud seeds made of dust and min­er­als. We want to know what makes each seed grow.

At Mount Wash­ing­ton Ob­ser­va­tory, a sys­tem of tubes cap­tures and heats the cloud mois­ture, evap­o­rat­ing ev­ery­thing but the par­ti­cles. We put sim­i­lar seeds in a cham­ber and tweak hu­mid­ity and tem­per­a­ture un­til we have a new cloud. Then we can see how it be­haves un­der var­i­ous conditions. But first, you have to catch a cloud.

As told to Kelsey Ather­ton / il­lus­tra­tion by Laura Breil­ing

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