A Cloudy Conundrum…

“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils.”

– William Wordsworth, 1804.
“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”

Except clouds aren’t really lonely, they’re a veritable megalopolis every one; containing millions upon millions of droplets of water vapour. Though according to the BBC comedy quiz show QI you’d only get about 250 ml of water from a cloud the size of a double decker London bus (Series G, Episode 12: “Gravity” Aired 12 Feb 2010).

Now, you’re probably wondering why am I talking about clouds… especially after such a long hiatus from blogging…no? Well I do have a couple of posts written (on science conferences and publishing) but because I’m still looking for a job, their incendiary nature is best left unpublished at the moment. Also, because I’m looking for said job, I haven’t had much time to spend watching newsfeeds, reading blogs and generally geologising.

But! The reason I’m talking about clouds is this; when I was studying the third year of my degree one major piece of work was an essay titled:

How would the Earth have evolved in the absence of life? (Click for .pdf)

A part of the early research for this essay was to find and list as many possible effects life demonstrably has on the earth system, and conversely the unaffected systems, and every which way in between. Now it’s a dead certainty that I barely scratched the surface, and people like NASA, NOAA, the MetOffice and many academics have done much better in the past however I did come across one question that I couldn’t find any information on. That question was one that I thought would have a very, very simple answer.

What percentage of cloud condensation nuclei consist of biological elements (i.e.: microscopic organisms from bacteria to small insects)?

That is as opposed to naturally occurring aerosols and rock dust (thinking about it now, a whole new affect to have included would be anthropogenic aerosols… but hey).

Despite a good few hours of looking through the scientific literature I had access to at the time (and sadly don’t have access to any more), searching the web and textbooks… even asking twitter… I found nothing… nada… zip.

So tonight when I saw that the UK Met Office were having a Q&A session on Twitter I thought I’d give them a shot on this question which has been in the back of my mind for the last year and a half…

and low and behold…

Their poor forecaster sent to quench the twitterati’s curiosity had no idea either…

So… I’ve done as Dan suggested and written an email to see if any of their scientists have any further leads or information. But would really welcome any input from anyone else who may have an insight. Is this a non-question? Has someone done research on this? If not how would you go about it?

Anywho, I’ll let you all know what I find out if and when I get a reply, but until I do it’s back to job-hunting for me…

Ben D Brooks

07/11/2011

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