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No. 86: Mar-Apr 1993

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Cloud Plumes Natural But Still A Bit Anomalous

During the mid-1980s, satellites photographed strange cloud plumes that stretched hundreds of kilometers downwind of some nothern islands, especially Bennett Island, in the Soviet Arctic. Some wondered if perhaps the Soviets were conducting tests of some new type of weapon in these remote locations. With the end of the Cold War, flights of instrumented aircraft over the islands were permitted. Data from these flights support the idea that the mystery cloud plumes are formed by air currents passing over the islands. In other words, they are only orographic or mountaincaused clouds, like those sometimes seen over the Rockies.

But puzzles persist:

  1. Why are the plumes so long?

  2. Why do they form at such high altitudes -- more than 3 kilometers above the tops of the relatively small mountains on the islands?

(Monastersky, R.; "Mountains Give Rise to Perplexing Plumes," Science News, 141:422, 1992. Also: Fett, Robert W.; "Major Cloud Plumes in the Arctic and Their Relation to Fronts and Ice Movements," Monthly Weather Review, 120: 925, 1992.)

From Science Frontiers #86, MAR-APR 1993. 1993-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987