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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Chemtrails vs. Contrails: Urban Myths 101

Jet contrails over Los Angeles
Since this blog is, in part, about being savvy to the world around you, I thought I'd take a moment to go Snopes on y'all!  For those who don't know about it, www.Snopes.com is a great website where they regularly debunk myths, explain urban legends, and investigate conspiracy theories.  Well, this business of chemtrails is the same kind of thing.
Perhaps you've heard that there didn't used to be chemtrails in the sky.  That there was an idyllic time when the government didn't use planes to spray people with mind control chemicals to poison them.  I'm telling you that this is absolute bunk!

First off, airplanes fly at high enough altitudes where they can't control who it falls on (think cropdusting).  People blame a bunch of contrails in the sky on their sniffles because they don't want to believe they have allergies.  I've had friends do this.  It bothers me that they've fallen for a chemtrail story rather than the basic idea that the pollen count went up and it gave them the sniffles.

It is amazing how many different kinds of clouds there are in the sky and how many layers there are to the atmosphere.  Once you know this, you begin to understand how it's possible for contrails to hang in the air for so long.  People honestly believe that chemtrails hang in the air and contrails disappear quickly.  This reflect the lack of science education about the atmosphere.

Passenger jets fly at about 25,000 - 40,000 feet high, that's above the clouds usually.  If you think about the fact that rain clouds usually let loose at 1000 feet, you are starting to get the picture.

In order for contrails (chemtrails) to form, the air surrounding the jet has to be below freezing or the ice crystals won't form.  Imagine a jet slicing through air, superheating that air with its engines.  The water droplets formed freeze in the air and then hang there until the disperse.  On days when that air is still and extremely cold, it does not dissipate.

The other thing that happens at high altitudes is what is called an inversion layer.  When warmer air sits on top of cold air, convection stops.  Convection is a sort of wind cycle in the atmosphere.  If contrails are hanging in the sky, you can bet that there is an inversion layer.  Inversion layers can also cause a buildup of fog, haze, or that world-famous Los Angeles smog.  And when I say "warmer," it's all relative.  The inversion layer can also be above where the commercial aircraft fly.

Contrails form in the highest part of the weather atmosphere called the stratosphere.  Most clouds occur lower than this.  I hope I'm not totally confusing you.  In some ways it seems obvious that if a jet is flying in the highest and often colder places in the atmosphere that these contrails form as a function of the combination of altitude, temperatures below freezing, and still air from inversion layers.  They also typically appear when there are cirrus clouds, which are the clouds that form in the stratosphere.

I'm starting to believe that ancient peoples were just as intelligent and accomplished as many of us are today. I can't believe the level of intelligence of the people who fall for some of this stuff.  Much like ancient peoples, modern peoples look to the sky and try to explain that which they do not understand by creating modern myths and urban legends; creating junk science rather than studying real science.  Instead of sense, they go for nonsense and illusory conspiracies which tickle the fictional fancy, but are fake.  Please take a physical geography class and a climatology (weather) class.

I also recommend getting an Audubon Field Guide to North American Weather since it describes all of the different kinds of clouds there are.

http://www.atmosphere.mpg.de/enid/Aviation/ss2_Contrails_and_other_clouds_7mi.html

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