Comments about technological history, system fractures, and human resilience from James R. Chiles, the author of Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology (HarperBusiness 2001; paperback 2002) and The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter (Random House, 2007, paperback 2008)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chasing Contrails at Flight Level 360

Disaster-wise, I'm tracking several developments (evidence of spontaneous fission at Fukushima-Daichi; what went wrong with Fobos-Grunt after successful injection to low-Earth orbit; and the daring plan to pluck shipping containers from the leaning Rena with the Smit-Borneo crane barge) but for now, a word about my sponsor, clouds! This following two trips to California in the last two weeks.

One trip was for an Inviting Disaster safety talk at a NASA facility and the other was to finish location shooting for a History Channel special to be broadcast in April 2012, produced by Lone Wolf Documentary Group. Links to come.

Both flights offered fine weather, which for a cloud-watcher, means heaps of clouds below and a clear sky above. 

One neat back-lighting effect that appeared west of Salt Lake City was produced as sunlight reflected off the snow cover, sending sunlight up through a heavy cloud cover:
And contrails clamored for attention, like these two eye-level streaks at 36,000 feet:
Here's a sunrise-contrail, appearing when I was on the way back:
Here's a contrail as seen from above, also in early morning.
Over eastern Utah our flight paralleled another plane, which happened to be making a whopper of a contrail. The sky was hazy enough, and the contrail big enough, that it actually threw a shadow across the sky:
 
Here's the dark streak that the contrail laid across a low cloud deck and a range of mountains:
That's a big one. More typically, contrail-shadows are faint and not visible at long distances, like these:
Winding up, now back at ground level, here's a summertime time-lapse video of cirrus on a northwesterly wind, followed by a handful of contrails.
video

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