Are Noctilucent Clouds a Climate Forewarning?

Landscape photographers have a love/hate relationship with clouds. Too many or too little in our shot can be cause for grief while trying to compose a landscape image, unless the clouds are interesting, of course, like during a storm.

But there's an interesting and rare cloud phenomenon that photographers have been experiencing more lately. They’re called noctilucent clouds, and although they might look really spectacular, they might actually be another canary in the coal mine.

In this video by Astrum, we get a full breakdown of what noctilucent clouds are, how and where they form, where they are likely visible, and how they might relate to climate change. According to historical data, noctilucent clouds have been increasing in quantity since they were first observed in 1885. The reason why their discovery and subsequent study is important to scientists is that the mesosphere, where they are formed, is an incredibly sensitive layer of the atmosphere. Studying noctilucent clouds is akin to studying temperature fluctuations in the arctic. These sensitive areas on Earth could be the first places scientists look to see a foreboding future due to climate change.

Aside from the supposed link to climate change, noctilucent clouds can also be formed by the rocket exhaust from satellite launches, which is why most photographers might be familiar with them today. Below is a picture taken at 6:58 pm (40 minutes after sunset) in southeastern Utah on October 31, 2017. In it, we can clearly see noctilucent clouds, but at the time, I didn’t know what I was looking at, but took some snapshots just cause they looked so cool.

After watching this video, I had to find this image again and try to figure out what caused these clouds to appear so far away from summer and so far south. After a little googling, I found out that these noctilucent clouds might have been the result of a rocket launch at Vandenberg AFB, just a few hours prior. The Vandenberg AFB space launch complexes are only 630 miles from where I was in Utah, so it's entirely possible that that's what I saw. Have you ever seen noctilucent clouds out of their normal place and time?

Scott Donschikowski's picture

Scott Donschikowski is a professional photographer and educator with over 11 years of experience leading a variety of photo workshops around the world. He specializes mainly in landscape, wildlife, and astrophotography. He is also active on YouTube where he makes tutorials sharing his photographic knowledge.

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Popcorn time? :-)

Very interesting and thought provoking video. The fact that they seem to be happening at an increasingly more frequent rate makes me want to know more.

Did "space shuttle" become a generic term while I wasn't looking? The last space shuttle launch was in 2011

"We also know that manmade sources such as exhaust from space shuttles can sometimes trigger noctilucent clouds"

The video mentions space shuttles because they have triggered the cloud formations in the past. Additionally, the video talks about other space craft without referring to them as space shuttles.

So you can rest assured that "space shuttle" is not yet become a generic term. Please go back to not looking.

Not looking at what, precisely?

Specificity is important when you are trying to insult someone via text.

Edit: Never mind, I see you were attempting to be clever, by referencing my prior.

For future reference, if you are going to attempt to provoke someone on the Internet, it would behoove you to use English correctly.

Or learn to use the spelling and grammar function before sending.

Point was still valid nonetheless. Maybe you should make a Master Class video on how to provoke on the internet. Then maybe next time you $hitpost, I can engage on your level.