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Weather in the Media: Operation Cloudlab


The weather is definitely a cultural obsession for us in the UK. It is commonly used as a conversation opener, and we are never seemingly happy with it - when it's too warm, we moan, and when it's too rainy we moan. So it is never too far from our thoughts. And while the most attention we pay to it may be watching the weather forecast, or deciding whether to take a brolly with us when we head out in the morning, there is so much more that we can learn from the weather and our climate.

The BBC is currently exploring this in a series of interesting documentaries, and one of these is Operation CloudLab: Secrets of the Skies. Its first episode appeared this week and it was certainly a thoroughly interesting programme. A team of scientists take to the skies in one of the world's largest airships for a unique exploration of the Earth's atmosphere and to discover the many ways it shapes our world.

The team, led by Meteorologist and explorer Felicity Aston, fly the airship coast to coast across America, from the Atlantic all the way to the Pacific, and the extreme range of atmospheric conditions this continent encompasses will enable them to investigate three distinct themes throughout this documentary:

  • Life - the way in which biology interacts with the atmosphere at all levels
  • Human impact - the subtle and surprising ways we change the atmopshere
  • Weather - the many extraodrinary processes that generate weather in the atmosphere

They start off in South-East Florda heading west along the Gulf Coast of the US, across the mainland to California in a airship kitted out with the latest scientific technology set up by Atmospheric Chemist Jim McQuaid.

In the first episode they look at a variety of themes. First they examine just how much water is contained within a simple cloud (the answer itself is surprising!) and how much it weighs. Following on from this, given that the clouds hold a great deal of water, Andy Torbett takes a flight to 10,000 ft, amongst a group of cumulus cloud and parachutes through them to measure the forces at work within clouds to keep them buoyant in the atmosphere. (Interesting fact - the average single cumulus cloud generates enough heat energy to power the average home for 17 years! Which is the equivalent of around 300 tonnes of TNT!) Following on from this, infectious diseases Doctor Chris van Tulleken, looks at a very interesting theory that bacteria living high up in the atmosphere may be helping some clouds to form, and could be responsible for particular types of rain around the globe.

Later in the episode the team looks at the influence of weather on bird migration patterns in the Americas and that the recent apparent increase in North Atlantic hurricanes may not be an unnatural occurrence, but merely a re-establisment of the natural frequency of hurricanes after they were artificially suppressed due to human activity in the 20th century. (We don't want to give away too many spoilers as to the reason here - it is well-worth watching the documentary to find out why!)

So if you didn't see the first episode on Wednesday, it is still available on BBC iPlayer, and the second episode will be available at 8pm on 23rd July. If you are interested in the weather, and its causes, we can definitely recommend this programme. You will never look at the weather in the same way again after this!
Created On  19 Jul 2014 16:22  -  Permalink

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