October 2017

Wave Watching

Our atmosphere is like an ocean. Not an ocean of water, of course – although water is present within it – but an ocean of that far more capricious fluid, air.

And waves pass through the ocean of air just as they do through those of water below. Most of the time, the wavelike movements in our atmosphere are invisible. They roll unnoticed along the boundaries between differing air masses, where denser, cooler air sits below warmer, less-dense air. They develop in the shearing flow of winds, indiscernible ranks of rising and sinking air that can form when wind speeds increase abruptly with altitude. And they lurk downwind of mountain ranges where stable air flows sweep into crests and troughs as they regain equilibrium, hovering unseen in the lee of the rocky peaks.

Unseen, that is, unless clouds are present. For clouds render visible the movements of the air. Down here in the deepest depths of the atmospheric ocean is the ‘troposphere’, named after the Greek word for turning or mixing, where 99% of the atmosphere’s water is to be found. This is where weather happens, where the slightest shifts in temperature due to the air’s rise can be enough to change water from a gas into droplets or crystals; from invisible to visible. It is how the overlapping, intersecting waves caused by the churn of the troposphere are, on some occasions, revealed. Rows of cloud show where the air rises and cools, rows of clearer sky where it sinks and warms. One such occasion was this October day over Moray, Scotland. The Cirrocumulus clouds photographed by Melyssa Wright revealed wave upon wave, undulation upon undulation. Each one rendered visible by the clouds, reminding us of the hidden ocean that we inhabit.

Cirrocumulus undulatus and lenticularis spotted over Lossiemouth, Moray, Scotland, by Melyssa Wright (Member 23,652).

7 thoughts on “October 2017”

  1. Melyssa Wright avatar Melyssa says:

    Hi David, yeah we couldn’t stop looking at them! The general picture lasted a fair while (over an hour) but the waving motion gradually changed how it looked (not that you could see it moving). For example though, the CloudAppSoc tweeted the formation as it developed from another angle (see here: https://twitter.com/cloudappsoc/status/920021580008378371 ). I guess I was directly under what you can see in the distance in that shot!

  2. David Moss avatar David says:

    Loved your shot of these delicate and amazing spirals. You must have been totally transfixed when you spotted them. How long did they last?

  3. Leslie Salmon-Zhu avatar Leslie Salmon-Zhu says:

    I have never seen anything like these before. I think I would have wondered what was going on up there/”is this normal?”. Thank you for capturing it so that others like me can see such an amazing thing for the first time.

  4. Melyssa Wright avatar Melyssa Frances Jane Wright says:

    Thanks everyone! (Rhea – I also thought cornucopia!).

    I took it just with an iPhone, and I’m basically looking directly up at the sky (if anyone could have seen me bending over backwards, I’m sure they would have thought I was a little odd!), so it was quite flat, horizontal, and shallow in reality, even though it seems to have such dimension on camera! I’ve seen mountain wave activity in high clouds before, but not to that degree – it almost looks like it’s rotating..! I also tried to do a panorama, but it doesn’t quite work as well when you pan across the sky directly overhead, so it became a little skewed. Glad you like it though!

    As for prints – I’ll send you an email!

  5. Christine R Blue avatar Christine R says:

    This photo is stunning. I would like to hear more about how the photo was taken. Are prints available?

  6. Rhea Williams avatar Rhea Williams says:

    Not seen ice cream cone clouds before. ….or are they cornucopia and so contain food of the gods?

  7. Laurence Green avatar Laurence Green says:


    Congratulations to you for your photograph being selected for Cloud Of The Month. Brilliant unusual shot.


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