How honeycomb clouds exhibit self-organization

Researchers have shown how honeycomb clouds disappear in one place and reappear in another.

Researchers claimed that rain causes air to move vertically, which breaks down and builds up cloud walls.

The air movement forms patterns in low clouds that remain cohesive structures even while appearing to shift about the sky, due to a principle called self-organization.

These clouds, called open-cell clouds that look like honeycombs, cover much of the open ocean.

Understanding how their patterns evolve will eventually help scientists build better models for predicting climate change.

This is the first time researchers have shown the patterns cycle regularly and why.

“The pattern of the clouds affects how much of the sun’s energy gets reflected back into space,” Nature quoted atmospheric scientist Hailong Wang of the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a coauthor on the study as saying.

Physicist Graham Feingold at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration led the above study.

“We’ve teased out the fundamental reasons why the open-cell clouds oscillate. Being able to simulate these clouds in computer models, we gain more insights into the physics behind the phenomenon. This will help us to better interpret measurements in the real atmosphere and represent these clouds in climate models,” said Wang.

In addition, this is the first time researchers have shown that open-cell clouds follow the principles of self-organizing systems — they spontaneously form dynamic, coherent structures that tend to repair themselves and resist change.

Such clouds join other self-organizing networks such as flocks of birds, shifting sand dunes or bubbles in boiling water.

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The study has been published in Nature.

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