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Cloud Formations that Mirror Animal Cells - What Are They?


I was checking through visible satellite imagery (you know, as you do) when I noticed some very interestingly organized cloud formations off of the coast of Peru – what is it? These formations are very common off of the west coast; While not necessarily common in the Tennessee Valley, humid days can, at times, stir up cloud patterns like this. All that said.. what causes this? For today's Science Sunday, I thought I'd take a quick look at this, because it really fascinates me how Earth can almost seem alive - we always talk about "cells" and so much more, and I hope it fascinates you. So... what is this? Simply put, this is the result of a special type of convection – convection resulting in... Rayleigh–Binard Convection!


Plant cells forming the same remarkable formation.

The formation in question is what's known as closed-cell convection - in contrast to normal convection (like we've seen throughout the day today in random storms), this formation on earth is surrounded at the edges by cloud free skies, with the center being cloudy or overcast, with spots between separated by clear lines of air. These closed cell formations are, in part, due to this so called Rayleigh-Binard convection, which results from horizontal layers of fluid heated from below, in this case the ocean, or in other times, valleys with temperature inversions. The patterns are distributed into cells known as Binard cells, which are due to the fight between gravitational forces and buoyancy in the atmosphere. Rayleigh-Binard convection is a natural process just as convection is – incredibly, this exact same feature can be seen in plant and animal cells, and can be expanded in scale to as large as entire atmospheres.


It's fun observations like this that really help me appreciate the fact that the macro truly does reflect the macro. From the top down... nature finds a way to reflect life. Awesome, isn't it? - Bryan W.

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