A typical cloud is made up of water droplets and ice crystals. This cloud composition usually varies with altitude and ambient conditions such as temperature and pressure. The high-level clouds such as cirrus, cirrostratus, and cirrocumulus are mostly made of ice crystals while low-level clouds such as cumulus, stratus are composed of water droplets. However, note that the low-level clouds can also be made up of water droplets and ice crystals if the ambient temperature drops below the frost point.
What are clouds composed of?
Have you ever wondered about the ingredients of clouds that make them puffy and white?
Clouds are made up of water droplets and ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere. There is a common misconception that clouds are consist of water vapors but it is not true. Clouds are formed when the water vapors present in the air condenses into water droplets. Clouds can be made up of water droplets or ice crystals or both depending upon the altitude and its surrounding conditions such as temperature and pressure.
Let’s learn the formation of clouds to properly understand the composition of clouds.
We know that the light from the sun heats the ground surface and also responsible for the evaporation of water from water reservoirs such as oceans, rivers, and lakes into water vapors. The air near the ground surface containing water vapors becomes warmer due to the direct radiations from the sun as well as the indirect radiations from the surrounding surfaces. This warm air rises up because the warmer air is less dense than the cool air. The temperature and pressure in the atmosphere decrease with the increasing altitude. This causes the rising air to cool down. After reaching a certain altitude (lifted condensation level), these invisible water vapors turn into visible liquid water droplets on the surface of tiny dust particles. This process of conversion of water vapor into water droplets is known as condensation while the direct conversion of water vapor to ice crystals is called deposition. The formation of ice crystals and water droplets depends on the altitude and its surrounding temperature and pressure. Read more in detail: how clouds are formed?
So now we know that clouds are composed of either water droplets or ice crystals. Let’s talk about different types of clouds and their composition.
What are low-level clouds are made of?
The clouds that are found below 6500 feet altitude are known as low-level clouds. Clouds such as Cumulus, Stratus, Cumulonimbus, and Stratocumulus fall under the category of low-level clouds.
What are cumulus clouds made of?
Cumulus clouds are fluffy clouds that can be made up of water droplets or ice crystals or a mixture of them. These are low-level clouds that are found in the altitude range of 1000 to 7000 feet. The formation of cumulus clouds includes the condensation of water vapors present in the air on the surface of dust particles. These water vapors can convert to water droplets or ice crystals depending on the altitude temperature. Ice crystals are generally formed when the temperature is below 32 oF (0 oC).
What are stratus clouds made of?
Similar to cumulus clouds, stratus clouds are also made up of water droplets, ice crystals, and a mixture of both. The composition of the stratus cloud is determined by the ambient temperature at an altitude where their formation took place. The low-level clouds can be present below 7000 feet altitude. These clouds are formed due to the lifting of fog near the ground surface.
What are cumulonimbus clouds made of?
Cumulonimbus clouds are also referred to as rain clouds that are made up of water droplets and ice crystals. These clouds are formed due to strong upward air currents carrying water vapor with them. These are large scale clouds that can be found in the altitude range of 2,000-52,000 ft.
What are stratocumulus clouds made of?
Stratocumulus clouds are low-level clouds that are composed of water droplets and ice crystals. They are generally found over oceans and mostly produce no precipitation. However, in some cases, they can produce light rain or snow.
What are nimbostratus clouds made of?
Nimbostratus are dark clouds generally made up of only water droplets because they are formed below 6500 feet altitude. However note that when the ambient temperature falls below the frost point, nimbus clouds can be composed of water droplets as well as ice crystals.
What are high clouds made of?
High-level clouds are clouds that are formed above the altitude of 16,500 ft. High clouds include Cirrus, Cirrostratus, and Cirrocumulus.
What are cirrus clouds made of?
Cirrus clouds are mostly made of ice crystals. Cirrus clouds are generally found at the height of 16,500 ft to 52,000 ft where the ambient temperature is below the frost point, 32° F (0° C), and can be in the temperature range of −20 °C (−4 °F) to −30 °C (−22 °F). Due to this low temperature, the water vapors present in the air directly converts to ice crystals. This process is known as a deposition.
What are cirrostratus and cirrocumulus clouds made of?
Similar to cirrus clouds, cirrostratus and cirrocumulus clouds are feathery clouds that are consist of ice crystals. However, they differ from cirrus clouds due to their shape. Cirrostratus clouds are widespread, a veil-like layer that produces an optical phenomenon called halos while cirrocumulus is small rounded puffs in the high sky that signify convection.
What are altocumulus clouds made of?
Altocumulus are mid-level clouds found in the altitude range of 7,000 ft to 23,000 ft. They are usually made up of water droplets. However, it may contain ice crystals depending upon their ambient temperature.
What clouds are made of ice crystals?
Clouds such as cirrus, cirrostratus, and cirrocumulus clouds are made of ice crystals. These are high-level clouds where the surrounding temperature is in the range of −20 °C (−4 °F) to −30 °C (−22 °F) which is lower than the frost point of water. Note that low-level clouds can also have ice crystals if the ambient temperature drops below the frost point of the water.
McGraw-Hill Editorial Staff (2005). McGraw-Hill Yearbook of Science & Technology for 2005
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